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Land & Water by Terry Stokka


Terry Stokka has lived in Black Forest for 29 years. He is president of the Friends of Black Forest, chairman of the Black Forest Land Use Committee and chairman of the Black Forest Water & Wells Committee.

Dangerous words from powerful people

By Terry Stokka

We all know our words have power to help or hurt us and other people. The words that elected leaders utter can get them praise or controversy. I would like to dig back in my 25 years of hearing our county leaders say things that made me scratch my head thinking, “Do they realize what they just said? That is totally wrong.”

The most recent example is hearing three of our county commissioners and one planning commission member make a bold statement that they believed people should be able to do what they want with their property. This statement was made in connection with their vote to approve the sketch plan for Flying Horse North, a development in Black Forest that is proposing to increase the number of homes from 202 to 846 plus a 225-room hotel. The problem with their statement is that it is only half right. The correct statement would be, “People should be able to do whatever they want with their property within the constraints of the county master plan and the LDC (land development code). 

I am not free to put an adult bookstore next to Falcon High School. You cannot place an auto junkyard in the new commercial development on the northwest corner of Woodmen and Meridian roads. We must all, including our county commissioners and developers, live within the constraints of the master plan in order to provide consistency and order to our county. If people are free to do what they want with their property, we would not need a master plan or LDC. The master plan provides more general guidance, and the LDC gives specific rules so our county is developed in a logical, consistent manner.

About 15 years ago a special use permit was requested for a greenhouse complex on Shoup Road. That greenhouse was the subject of an article in The New Falcon Herald last month. The rules say the proposed special use must conform to the surrounding properties and must not be in conflict with the uses in the area. To the neighbors, two huge greenhouses and a processing building did not fit in with their single-family homes. In justifying her vote, one county commissioner said she grew up near a greenhouse in Chicago and it didn’t bother her. Another commissioner said, “I kinda like greenhouses.” What did feelings have to do with the special use rules, anyway?

At a planning commission hearing that was considering smaller lots for a development, one commissioner said she couldn’t see why a person needed a larger lot anyway because she lived on a small lot in the city and she was quite happy with that. So “happy” was the criteria for her vote on the issue.

One of the primary considerations for approval of a land use issue is general conformity with the master plan. This criteria has some wiggle room and can be stretched somewhat. However, when the master plan specifies that the densities in the area must be no less than 2.5-acres/lot, proposing a density five times greater is not even “generally conforming” to the master plan. In fact, it seems to be grossly non-conforming. Two of the commissioners are on record for saying they felt it was in “general conformity.”

At a recent county commissioner hearing that was considering a sketch plan or first step in a development, one commissioner said his vote in favor was just the first step and there were many more opportunities to discuss and consider this development. He encouraged those in opposition to keep talking to the developer to work out their differences. That may sound good on the surface.

However, once the commissioners approved the sketch plan, further hearings are only refinements providing greater detail. They had started the ball rolling with little chance to change or stop it. Further, there is no incentive for the developer to work with the residents when the county commissioners have just approved his sketch plan. The developer won and the rest of us lost so he has no reason to discuss it further.

These are just a few local examples of how powerful people say things that sound logical and lofty until you look closer and see that the words are not following the county plans. The commissioner’s job is to ignore personal preferences, half-truths, lofty pronouncements and absurd comments and stick to the documents that govern their actions.

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