Eagle County’s new land use regulations need to work along with goals for ecology and stewardship
Code rewrite work sessions will continue into December
Zoning and environmental stewardship can go hand in hand, but that’s a slow process.
Stewardship was a big part of the latest update to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners about rewriting Eagle County land use regulations. Todd Messenger, an attorney with Fairfield and Woods, is working on that rewrite. Messenger and Assistant County Attorney Beth Oliver provided that update, which focused in part on how land use policy can affect stewardship.
That work, and draft regulations, have already brought comments, particularly about potential effects on the county’s riparian areas. The draft includes language regarding changes to the county’s current 75-foot setback requirement along streams.
A letter from Rick Lofaro and Heather Lewin of the Roaring Fork Conservancy urges keeping the current setback, which “preserves Eagle County’s long-term economic development potential by retaining riparian features beneficial to both private and public interests.”
Messenger told the commissioners there’s no current proposal to reduce the setback standards. But, he added, setback decisions are complex and depend in large part on area ecology.
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Messenger said regulations should promote “adaptability, resilience and recovery.”
According to Messenger’s PowerPoint presentation to the commissioners, new regulations should provide clarity on how setback rules should apply to development applications. Further clarification should come regarding how setbacks interact with floodplain regulations. Floodplain maps are set by the federal government to determine eligibility for flood insurance.
“There’s going to have to be discussion” about how those regulations can work in concert, Messenger said.
“The purpose is ecology, and protecting a whole bunch of ecological values,” Messenger added, noting those regulations are “really important.”
When setback reductions are granted, they should be uniform, and work in concert with the county’s stewardship goals.
Setback exemptions are currently calculated by evaluations that result in a “finding of no significant impact.” While that isn’t a “terrible” process, Messenger said setback exemptions need to be tied to a specific site and what’s around it. There are some areas — particularly in rural locations — where land use decisions should be “super protective” of current conditions.
Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry asked how future regulations might affect boat ramps on private property.
Messenger noted there’s going to be pressure from property owners regarding what, if any regulations govern those and similar uses.
Another topic is the county’s relatively new ability to protect wetlands.
Until earlier this year, wetlands were protected by the federal Clean Water Act. But a 2023 U.S. Supreme Court decision limited that law’s reach, and removed many wetlands areas from federal jurisdiction.
That decision gives local governments the ability to provide their own wetlands protections.
Chandler-Henry said understanding wetlands is “critical” for homeowners, as well as potential transmountain water diversions.
“We need to be clear about that,” Chandler-Henry said.
Messenger noted that county regulations may have to take water rights into account, as well as ditch and reservoir companies.
In addition to water and wetlands, regulations should be considered regarding rockfall and other geological hazards, as well as outdoor lighting, wildlife, wildfire and other issues.
Ultimately, though, changes through zoning are likely to be fairly slow, since private interests and private capital are needed before anything new is done on private land.
An outline of the new regulations should be ready by January.
Two more work sessions about rewriting Eagle County’s are set, and will likely be held in December.