After winter having taken a six-week break I think most of us would be okay if March comes in like a lion and roars for its share of the month – I know we need the snowpack, but oh boy weren’t those strokes of 60-degree days in the middle of February nice! It was a welcomed change and the real estate market fully embraced it. So far 2015 is off to a quick start in what normally is the slowest time of the year. It doesn’t hurt that the front-range is booming and I-70 has been an easy drive because there are thousands of Fifty and Sixty-somethings that miss Colorado the way it used to be and plenty of young adults that don’t want, or need a break from, congested urban living and head this way. The North Fork valley will always be a desirable place to live just as it’s always been a difficult place to earn a living. And that’s where things start to get complicated. Governments, at all levels – federal, state, county and local – are motivated to make policy that helps to create jobs and support economic activity. Simultaneously, through laws and regulation, we try to keep our communities safe and a pleasant place to live. This column isn’t intended to be a civics lesson, it’s about local real estate – but they go together.
Take, for example, what has become locally known as “the chicken war” stemming from the approval by our county commissioners of the now shuttered egg-laying facility on Powell Mesa. The issue, however, has become about much more than just chickens. Because the plaintiff’s case is based on the fact that the county’s specific development regulations refer to the master plan, the question of whether the master plan is “law” or just a set of “guiding principles” leaves open to doubt the legitimacy and enforceability of those regulations. So, presumably to avoid such ambiguity going forward, the county commissioners have proposed stripping much of the protective language from the special development statute. These regulations apply to commercial development in Delta County – the cross roads where real estate and commerce intersect. Each proposed new commercial operation has to apply for approval, go through a review process, and are almost always approved with some conditions to “mitigate” the negative effect it may have on adjacent property owners. It’s a system that has been assembled not because it works better than zoning but because, in the name of “property rights”, Delta County is a No-Zone zone. Without zoning business looking to start up or relocate to our area have no idea where, or even if, they can find a suitable location. It’s hard to see how that helps create jobs. As it is, the initial levels of review by the area planning committees and the planning commission are only advisory and the commissioners may vote as they please – and they do. The real issue here is whether the court system will have authority to reverse an approval when the negative effects are not mitigated. Some argue that zoning creates winners and losers. It does. So does the system we have now and it would only be worse if these changes are made. If you think it doesn’t matter, how’d you like a gravel pit or a hog farm next door? It is an issue that anyone who cares about land use planning, quality of life, or economic development in Delta County should learn more about.
Similarly, everyone knows that you don’t need a building permit in unincorporated Delta County. Whether or not that is a good thing is also open to debate. What is not debatable is that you must obtain a permit from the State of Colorado before you tear one down. And, to get the permit, the structure has to first be tested for asbestos. Do you want to guess how many of the old houses not worth saving around here have a coal furnace in the basement? Care to take a stab at how many of those have asbestos in them? Class?…anyone? The first step is to hire a company, probably from Grand Junction, to come and take samples for testing. Then you get a report, then you hire an abatement contractor, then you get the air sampled – on three different occasions at the cost of about $1000 each, and then, if it’s all clear, you can tear down the house. Is that over-kill? It occurs to me that it sure would be nice if regulations followed the Goldilocks principle – not too much or too little, but just right.
(This article was also published in the Merchant Herald.)