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County will allow more homes in agricultural zones

Commissioners ready to approve controversial zoning changes
News Editor
   The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners is expected to approve revisions to all of its zoning ordinances on Jan. 23, including three controversial sections related to resource lands that will allow more homes to be build in areas exclusively reserved for agricultural use.
   As part of a periodic review that has taken more than two years, the commissioners are scheduled to read the proposed changes into the record at 1:30 p.m. in the Jefferson County Annex Building as a formality before approving them in two weeks.
   While most of the revisions simply clean up language in the 10 articles, changes in Article 3 to two Exclusive Farm Use zones, EFU-A1 and EFU-A2, plus the county’s Range Land zone, RL-EFU, have been met with mixed reviews from property rights advocates and those that believe additional development in agricultural areas will open the door to further sprawl.
   Changes to these three zones will be adopted separately to prevent any appeal from delaying implementation of the other nine articles.
   The revisions will allow some property owners previously prohibited from constructing homes to build on their parcels as long as they meet certain criteria.
   “This thing is really about people’s property rights,” said Commissioner Mike Ahern, who has become the board’s chair with the New Year. “We’re one of, if not the only county in the state, that doesn’t allow this and I don’t think it’s anything to be proud of. And the realistic thing is that many (of the dwellings) won’t be built.”
   The final details of the three sections have been in the hands of commissioners Ahern and Bill Bellamy since Nov. 28, when they indicated their endorsement of the proposed changes during the first day of their deliberations. Commissioner Janet Brown, who has voiced her opposition to most of the resource zone proposals, said she will vote against the additions to the EFU-A1 and RL-EFU zones because they will “weaken our agricultural base.”
   “I think it’s dangerous to open the door to put people who are not accustomed to farming out in those areas where there’s field burning and swathing,” Brown said. “That’s where I stand.”
   Since Brown is voting “no” on two of the ordinances, the commissioners must read the proposals into the record today but cannot vote on them for 13 days for legal reasons, County Counsel Paul Hathaway said.
   But despite Brown’s opposition, Bellamy and Ahern have the 2-1 edge to push forward the changes. County staff have completed the final drafts of the proposals and handed them over to the commissioners.
   They include the following:
   • In the EFU-A1 zone, a “Lot of Record” will be added to the list of conditional permitted uses. It is defined as a single family dwelling that may be established on a parcel lawfully created prior to Jan. 1, 1985. Only individuals who have owned the parcels since before land-use laws took effect, or inherited them afterward, will be permitted to build homes on them. In this zone, a Lot of Record must be a minimum of 15,000 square feet — a size picked by Bellamy and Ahern. The Jefferson County Community Development Department estimates that 161 map lots in the zone may be eligible as lot of records.
   • In the EFU-A2 zone, a “Dwelling not in Conjunction with Farm Use” can be constructed. It is limited to existing parcels created prior to Jan. 1, 1993 and must be at least five acres in size. However, the commissioners recently added wording that will allow property owners to build homes on parcels created after Jan. 1, 1993 as long as they are 80 acres in size.
   • In the RL-EFU zone, both a Lot of Record and Dwelling not in Conjunction with Farm Use will be conditional permitted uses. A Lot of Record in this zone must be at least 20 acres; a Dwelling not in Conjunction with Farm Use at least 40 acres on a parcel created after Jan. 1, 1993.
   Ahern said the revised resource zone ordinances have criteria that will actually lead to less parcelization.
   “Anytime someone owns contiguous parcels, they have to put them into one parcel if they want to build a home that’s not for farming,” he said. “We’re actually going to end up with less parcels than we have now.”
   But critics of the proposals can still appeal the decision to the Land Use Board of Appeals. They cite a myriad of reasons for their opposition, and believe it could lead to more sprawl.
   The many area farmers and ranchers who have spoken out against the changes during the hearing process also say there will inevitably be friction between farmers and nonfarmers when placed together, and that their differences lead to lawsuits. The cost of adding services, such as sewer lines or school bus routes, for example, will be a financial burden on the county, they contend.
   Bellamy said despite the controversy these three resource zones have generated, revisions to the county’s entire set of zoning ordinances will have a positive effect that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
   “It’s been a two-year thing that we’re bringing to a close and the whole updating and modernizing of the zoning codes are a benefit to all the citizens of the county because now they will have one booklet that will be up to date with state laws and codes.
   “Our planning commission has spent a year and a half holding hearings all over the county and I want to compliment them for that.”