Code changes, housing woes are linked at Realtors forum
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Changes to Garfield County’s land-use regulations could either help or hurt the housing market, depending on the viewpoints of opposing candidates vying for two county commissioner seats in the Nov. 6 election.
Candidates touched on the struggling housing market and deflated property values at a forum sponsored by the Glenwood Springs Association of Realtors, held Wednesday at the Glenwood Community Center.
All four of the commissioner candidates participated, as did the three candidates vying for the open Colorado House District 57 seat (see related story this page), and one of the three candidates in the state Senate District 8 race.
Running for county commissioner are four-term District 2 incumbent John Martin, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger Sonja Linman. District 3 incumbent Republican Mike Samson is also seeking re-election to a second four-year term against Democrat Aleks Briedis.
“In order to bring stability to the real estate market, we have to get away from our dependence on one single industry,” Briedis said in reference to Garfield County’s reliance on the oil and gas industry.
Briedis also said development should be required to conform to the county’s comprehensive plan. That would be a departure from the current commissioners’ policy.
“That way you know what’s going to be built where, and be assured that there will be a high standard in place to protect property values,” said Briedis, a Rifle resident and director of the city’s parks and recreation department for the past 13 years.
“When you buy a house, you need to know what’s going to be next to it, and that your investment is going to be protected,” he said.
Samson countered that the recently approved land-use code changes, and the ones still being considered, are meant to bring more economic diversity into the county.
He said the commissioners decided to make the comprehensive plan an advisory rather than a mandatory component of the land-use code to protect and promote that diversity.
“I don’t think we focus on just one industry, and that we already do have a lot of diversity,” said Samson, also of Rifle.
The land-use code revisions are also intended to streamline the development review process and remove some of the regulatory barriers that can slow economic growth, Samson said.
Even before the code revisions began, he noted that the commissioners also acted to relax the county’s affordable housing regulations and placed a three-year moratorium on the rules as a way to spur development.
“We are mindful of what’s happening with the housing market, and we are trying to help you,” Samson said to the gather of local real estate professionals.
The code advisory committee is now considering a possible recommendation to remove the affordable housing requirements from the books altogether.
Linman also referred to the land-use code revisions as she squared off against Martin at the forum. She criticized what she believes to have been a lack of public input before some of the initial code revisions were made.
“I have read all 450 pages of the code revisions and, yes, they have been streamlined,” Linman said. “But whether they address economic diversity is another question.
“I think you will see a manipulation of property values as a result of some of the changes,” she said, adding that changes meant to help one property owner could in turn hurt neighboring property owners.
“Quality of life is also important,” Linman said, “and the code is meant to encourage people to be good stewards of our community.”
One code change she said she supports has to do with making it easier for people to operate small, home-based businesses.
Martin noted that the code revision process is ongoing, and that there will be adequate opportunity for public input.
“I believe they will be a good thing for the county, and good for the citizens,” Martin said.
In particular, revisions to some of the county’s industrial standards will help to invite new businesses into the county, Martin said.
He pointed out that the county has spent some $4 million on air and water quality monitoring and studies to ensure safeguards from oil and gas operations and other industrial activities.
“I believe we have taken Garfield County from a poor, overlooked county and made a lot of progress in the 16 years I’ve been here,” Martin said. “We have an unflappable philosophy for how we can get things done, and even take a few risks from time to time.”
Sections 1 to 7 of the county land-use code have been referred to the county Planning Commission for review, and will be subject to public hearings before both the planning commission and the county commissioners. Sections 8-16 are still being looked at by the advisory committee.
The Realtors’ forum was video-recorded by Community Access Cable Channel 10, and will be rebroadcast on Sat. Sept. 22, at 9 a.m., Noon, 7 p.m., 10 p.m. and Midnight for any local cable subscribers who want to view it.
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