Garfield County code revisions would nix waterway setbacks
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A local river conservation group has serious reservations about the proposed deletion of waterway setbacks and other wetlands protections as part of Garfield County’s land-use code rewrite.
“Protection of wetlands, including setbacks, is absolutely important to protecting our rivers,” said Heather Tattersall, watershed action coordinator for the Roaring Fork Conservancy, during a continued public hearing before county commissioners on the proposed code revisions Thursday.
“Any disturbance close to a riverbank can be detrimental to the river,” she said. “Keeping the setbacks in the code is a proactive way to protect our rivers, and serves as a long-term benefit to water quality.”
The existing Garfield County code requires that primary structures, such as homes or buildings related to commercial or industrial operations, be situated at least 35 horizontal feet away from waterways.
Likewise, the current code includes restrictions on the storage of hazardous materials, sand and road salt within 100 feet of rivers and streams.
But, under the proposed rewrite of the county land-use and development code, the entire sections related to the protection of wetlands, water bodies and water quality, have been removed.
In place of local regulations, any development along rivers and waterways would still have to follow applicable state and federal regulations related to the protection of water bodies.
One of the goals of the county land-use code rewrite when county commissioners handed the task over to a special code advisory committee last year was to do away with redundancies in the code.
The advisory committee determined that the waterway protection standards, in particular, are redundant to state and federal controls under the Clean Water Act and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulations related to the protection of waterways and water quality.
The Garfield County Planning Commission agreed when it voted, 7-0, this spring to forward the proposed code rewrite to the county commissioners.
Commissioners continued working their way through the proposal on Thursday, but continued the public hearing again until a special meeting on June 11. The board expects to decide whether to adopt the new, streamlined code by mid-to-late June.
Under the proposed code revisions, any development near a waterway would still have to follow state and federal regulations related to floodplains and water quality protection, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky pointed out Thursday.
He asked for language to be added to the county code that specifically cites relevant sections of state and federal law aimed at protecting water quality.
“I would like to see us tie it back to state and federal laws in some way, so that it could have more teeth,” Jankovsky said.
The Roaring Fork Conservancy, in two-page letter to the county commissioners this week, outlined several reasons why local protections are important in addition to state and federal regulations.
“A key impact of concern is erosion,” the letter states. “Since natural vegetation reduces erosion, a loss of riparian buffer protections could result in additional loss of soil, vegetation and riverfront areas attractive to developers.
“Increased sedimentation and a potential decline in fish population could harm Garfield County’s economy,” the conservancy also points out.
Carbondale resident Richard Votero, also speaking at the Thursday meeting, said the recent oil and gas pipeline leak on Parachute Creek is just one example of where local controls would be better than leaving it up to the state or federal regulators.
“The response time is lengthened significantly when you leave it up to state bureaucrats and corporations to deal with these things,” Votero said. “Let’s keep our local controls in place.”
The code review committee, and ultimately the planning commission, agreed that eliminating the setback rules would allow someone to build right up to the water’s edge and still meet state and federal floodplain standards, without an extra layer of local regulation.
Also, the linear, 35-foot measurement can be overly restrictive where there’s a steep embankment above a river or stream, members of the commission agreed.
Overall, the code revisions are meant to streamline the development review process, make the code more “user-friendly” and eliminate “regulatory barriers” to economic development, according to the commissioners’ directive to the code committee.
Glenwood Springs resident Connie Engeler said she agrees with maintaining environmental protections, but the code revisions would benefit her in accomplishing a small subdivision on her property.
“There are enough stop-gaps in place here, and I think it’s a very well-thought-out plan,” she said at Thursday’s meeting. “If it becomes too expensive, you encourage people to chop into even smaller pieces.”
The code revision includes a much-more streamlined administrative review process for minor subdivisions than the current code allows.
Details of the proposed land-use code revisions can by found on the Garfield County website, at http://www.garfield-county.com. Look for the link on the home page to the “Land Use Code changes.”
A PowerPoint presentation summarizing the recommendations can also be found in the May 13 BOCC meeting online packet, under the “Garfield County Commission” link.
The continued public hearing on June 11 is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
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