Eagle County land use code rewrite aims to simplify what’s now a complicated book of rules
Regulations and zoning often don't fit reality
As Eagle County takes on the unglamorous job of simplifying and revising its land-use codes, public comment will be essential. But public comment may have to wait a while.
At a work session with the Eagle County Board of Commissioners, Assistant County Attorney Beth Oliver said the team working on the new regulations is in the process of developing a website containing the current code. Public comment on that site can be part of drafting new regulations.
Todd Messenger of Fairfield and Woods, a Denver-based legal firm, is working with the county on the new regulations. Messenger said a website can lay out both old and proposed codes in a searchable format.
Officials can respond to online comments and make changes if needed.
Messenger assured the commissioners they’ll be satisfied with the public process element of drafting new regulations.
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One part of drafting new regulations will be including language that reflects both current realities and possible future uses.
Messenger noted that the county currently “has a land use vocabulary problem.”
And, given how the regulations have expanded over the years, it can be hard to keep track of just what’s been approved.
Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry noted that a local resident some time ago asked for a discount at a golf course at Cordillera. That discount was part of the planned unit development approval for the course, but had been long forgotten by the time someone actually asked for a discount.
Situations like that show a need to “narrow down” the current regulations, Chandler-Henry said.
- Eagle County over the years has approved 86 parcels as Planned Unit Developments
- Cordillera is the largest of those developments, at 7.5 square miles
- The federal government doesn’t have to honor local zoning on federal lands
Messenger said the county may want to rezone property of consenting landowners in order to cut down the number of planned unit developments — there are now 86 such developments in the county — all of which have project-specific language. The level of detail in the zoning code is essential, he added, but too much specificity can backfire.
For instance, a town that bans ground-floor office use has a good goal in mind — keeping sales tax-generating businesses in a limited commercial zone. On the other hand, building owners in a recession need rental income, which may require bending the original regulations.
Messenger said regulations need to build-in an understanding of economic cycles. That’s been especially true in this century, which has seen a greater-than-usual number of economic ups and downs.
Messenger called zoning a “blunt instrument,” one that doesn’t always meet the goal of preserving or molding community character.
Zoning in Eagle County has a few twists from other areas, in large part due to the amount of federal land within the county’s boundaries.
Messenger noted that federal agencies can decide what happens on federal land. But, he added, if local governments have plans for that land, federal agencies must consider those plans and coordinate with local governments.
While zoning changes will change future use, Messenger said lots in existing zone districts “are OK.”
But current rules often surprise landowners by requiring approval for changes on their property. That can happen in planned unit developments.
Those developments are “fine” in certain cases, Messenger said. But, he added, that kind of approval shouldn’t be the “go-to” for approving different uses, which should instead rely on zoning.
Chandler-Henry noted that the current land use code is outdated, adding that a complete rewrite of those regulations will be in the planning stages for some time. The public will be able to weigh in even before public hearings are held, she noted.