The subjects of water and development have traditionally been the lightning rods of politics in Elbert County, and there was no variation to that theme when the Board of County Commissioners met on Jan. 28 to discuss and vote on its annual …
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The subjects of water and development have traditionally been the lightning rods of politics in Elbert County, and there was no variation to that theme when the Board of County Commissioners met on Jan. 28 to discuss and vote on its annual appointments for 2015.
The regularly scheduled meeting in Kiowa drew about 30 citizens from as far away as Simla to watch and express opinions on various county appointments being made. While most were approved unanimously with little to no controversy, the usual suspects of water and planning drew the most public comment as well as prolonged internal debate among the three county commissioners making up the BOCC.
The first major debate arose from appointments to water roundtables. Commissioner Robert Rowland, District 1, who was reappointed as Elbert County's representative to the Metro Roundtable, offered a motion to also represent Elbert County on the South Platte Basin Roundtable, a seat held by Commissioner Larry Ross of District 3.
Rowland said he was seeking the seat because he felt that he had the requisite skills to provide the best representation to both bodies and so Elbert County's representation and messaging would be consistent to both the Metro and South Platte Basin roundtables.
Newly sworn-in Commissioner Kelly Dore, District 2, cast the first of several deciding votes of the day in favor of reappointing Ross, explaining that water was a primary issue for everyone in Elbert County, and that all three commissioners needed to work together and be educated together. She also stressed the need for broad BOCC involvement.
“We have to work together and make sure that we are sharing this information, and it cannot be based on one person,” she said. “In a year we can re-examine this and figure out what we want to do, but I would like to at least afford Commissioner Ross the opportunity to show me within that year.”
The BOCC also unanimously formalized its three appointments to the Water Advisory Committee, but split when it came to the appointment of local developer James Marshal as the committee's fourth member.
Marshal was the key player in the Spring Valley Vistas Development project. In 2008, Elbert County District Court ruled against an increase in density within the project that was authorized by the then BOCC to the development company, RCI, after a local activist group, Citizens for Responsible Growth, filed a lawsuit opposing it. An appellate court subsequently overturned the district court's ruling, but the Colorado Supreme Court reinstated it in 2011.
Rowland brought forth the motion of Marshal's appointment, and Ross was quick to speak of the merits of including developers in the conversation regarding growth and planning, but cautioned that the BOCC needed to be careful not to compromise its position as an authoritative body.
“It is very, very important for us (as public officials) to maintain proper distance or relationship to those who will come before our planning department,” Ross said.
Ross offered a motion to postpone the appointment until he had an opportunity to further discuss and study the implications of the last-minute addition to the Water Advisory Committee.
Dore also spoke to the merits of additional time to study Marshal's appointment. Dore seconded Ross' motion and cast the deciding vote to postpone the decision.
On the issue of planning commission appointments, it was once again Dore who tipped the balance. In the past two months, the BOCC and the planning commission have been at odds over a number of issues, including the formation of the commission's bylaws and, more recently, proposals to change the composition of the planning commission itself.
Rowland moved to delay appointments of new members to the commission as well as delay the reappointment of members with expired terms until new zoning regulations addressing the open issues were completed.
State statute allows the planning commission to have up to nine seats or as few as three. Currently three of the nine positions are vacant due to resignations, and two terms expired at the beginning of the year.
Rowland's motion included a provision that interim members with expired terms would continue their roles without formal reappointments until the issue of new zoning regulations was resolved. The final vote was 2-1 in favor of maintaining the status quo, with Ross casting the dissenting vote.
The proposed delay prompted a great deal of public comment, much of it in favor of making the appointments ahead of the proposed zoning law changes. Rick Brown, the vice chair of the Elbert County Planning Commission, speaking on his own behalf, said he would not only like to see the vacancies filled, but filled with women.
“In 2015, it's a little awkward to be sitting up there with a group of six guys, who are all very good, Brown said. “It's a privilege to serve with them, but I think we need to be looking at some gender equity.”
Brown has been the most outspoken member of the commission about the proposed changes to the zoning laws, and most recently called into question the BOCC's compliance with Colorado's open-government laws, the last item on the BOCC's to-do list for the day.
In a unanimous vote, the BOCC approved a motion forwarded by Rowland authorizing two official posting sites for public notices, a second-floor bulletin board and a bulletin board in the main hall of the courthouse.
County Attorney Wade Gateley also reminded those present that they could sign up for email notifications with the clerk to the BOCC. While not official, the emails include meeting dates, times and agendas, where appropriate.
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