Planning commission sends resolution back to commissioners for clarification

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RBC | A resolution to amend the county’s building code deemed null and void because county commissioners did not adhere to state statutes requiring a public hearing and review by the planning commission, was presented to the planning commission on Thursday, Sept. 19.

Questions raised by attending members of the public and members of the commission generated enough concern that the commission moved for a continuance instead of a recommendation to approve the resolution as written. Concerns presented, as well as public comments in favor of the resolution, will return to the commissioners for review and possible revision, and a continuance meeting will be held at the next Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at the courthouse.

Members of the public in attendance were local contractors Chris Lockwood and Jack Ball; property owners Scott Mobley, Mona Avey and Mark Scritchfield; and former building official Jeff Kummer.

During public comment, Kummer spoke first.

“This resolution is not well-written. It’s very confusing, difficult if not impossible to understand. There’s a lot of gray areas and possible scenarios that have not been considered or words written to clarify them. This leaves the interpretation up to the person who will administer these regulations if passed. They will be required to make decisions based on the desires of political leaders and their campaign promises made to a small percentage of the population of this county. There’s no way the adoption of this resolution can go into effect without significantly sacrificing the health, safety and welfare of citizens.”

Kummer, who worked for the county for 13 years in the building department, went on to state, “This resolution will brand Rio Blanco County as being substandard, as it has in several other counties in Colorado, Alaska, Idaho and Arizona…The loss of just one life tied to these new amendments is not worth all the political promises that have been kept in this entire world.”

Scott Mobley, a past resident of Rio Blanco County and current RBC taxpayer, who now lives in Alaska, said where he lives, “you can do whatever you want to do and it hasn’t caused the end of the world.”

“I think people are just getting tired of big government telling them what to do. I think relaxing these codes is a good start of eliminating government interference where the county has no liability, no responsibility, if a person wants their place inspected let them hire an inspector and have them inspected,” Mobley said.

“We can recommend some changes and stuff,” said Travis Day, planning commission board chair.

Mona Avey, running for county commissioner in 2020, said she believes the changes are needed. “As a person who has dealt with some of the issues these codes have created. I think this is a great first step.” Avey previously told the commissioners they were in the driver’s seat of making changes. “When you own property there are some things you should be able to do without government telling you when, what and how.”

Local contractor Jack Ball had a list of concerns and questions, beginning with whether there will be a building official and a building department at the county level, and moving on to the definition of a primary residence. According to the resolution as written, the dwelling a person stays at the most is their primary residence, regardless of the amount of time spent at that residence.

Contractor Chris Lockwood agreed with Ball’s concerns, and added a question about the “right to eliminate commerce by creating a 10-day waiting period.”

“I’m worried about health, safety and welfare of the people. I’m worried about commerce, too. What if I take the rural exemption, and this doesn’t get passed?”

County Planner Leif Joy said according to direction he has received, the county is moving forward. “Beyond that, I”m not an attorney and I apologize I can’t answer that…From the direction I’ve been given, the rural exemption will stay in place.”

Joy also said the intent is to keep the building department intact, but to provide more options for residents.

Questions about the primary residence, Joy said, will have to go to legal for definition.

Lockwood requested the commission create a preapproved list of inspectors that will be made available to the public.

“Be proactive and consumer oriented,” he added.

Commission member John Scott, who is also a realtor, said he believes inspections need to be required on residences.

“I think this is good, and this is a good move in the right direction, it just needs polished,” Scott said.

Ball asked about financial impact to the county from the change. “Has anybody done a study? I don’t think we can proceed without that if the county is going to lose revenue.”

Contractors, and some of the commission members, expressed concerns about safety, spec homes, after-the-fact inspection requirements, potential loopholes, confusion about the continued need for state-required inspections, zoning vs. use requirements, and more.

The changes don’t affect industrial or commercial properties, or properties within town limits in Rangely or Meeker.

After further discussion, commission member Ginny Love stated, “The intent of this was good in theory, but when it comes to life and safety I think we really better take a step back and look at this. It might be a good first start, but too much is open-ended.”

The commissioners can accept the continuance and seek answers to the questions raised, or can override the commission’s recommendation.