MONTROSE, Colo. - For decades this town with the stunning views of the jagged San Juan Mountains aggressively courted growth and collectively admitted no downside.
When county commissioners tried to adopt a
wimpy land-use plan 21 years ago, they were voted out of office.
The new leadership invited in dirty industry - a Louisiana-Pacific
waferboard plant that eventually was fined millions by the federal
government and sued for millions more by neighboring property
A real estate boom, however, has
tempered the community's zeal for growth, and some citizens and
elected officials now embrace planning as the only defense against
the rapid urbanization of a largely rural valley.
The town itself is up to 10,000 residents, and
nearly 1,500 homes are under construction in the area, mostly on
former farms and ranches. Over the past two years, the town's
schools have bulged with 500 new students.
year Montrose grew between 6 and 8 percent, says Ken Gale, a former
mayor and current president of the Chamber of Commerce. "That's 600
people coming here every year," he says. "In 10 years our town
could double in population."
have gone so far this year as to start a dialogue on growth.
Thirty-thousand dollars hired a consultant, Barbara Cole of
Community Matters Inc., from Littleton, Colo.
Cole began with a tip-toe approach, conducting a series of private
interviews with citizens. She found that people were hesitant to
get involved because they felt the "good ol" boys'- the boss
politicians, landowners and businessmen - would run the
Widely advertised as a public
free-for-all, Cole's first public meeting brought in 400 people.
More than 100 joined committees on topics such as growth, community
character, education and economic development. From committee
recommendations, Cole drafted the Uncompaghre Valley Community
Action Plan, which covers the county and the town. So far the plan
exists only on paper.
officials struggle with the county's most severe land-use problem:
the rapid subdivision of agricultural lands outside town.
Ninety-five percent of all county lands are zoned agricultural and
can be subjected to any use - commercial, industrial or residential
- without going through county review.
county planning commissioner, Allan Belt, says the lack of
regulation has created some odd juxtapositions, such as a new
housing subdivision abutting a new gravel quarry.
"Our land-use pattern in
these agricultural areas is starting to look like a dalmation,"
says Belt. He says that some new subdivisions cut off wildlife
corridors from the Uncompaghre River to the nearby
"Two years ago, the
county planning commission dealt with two or three subdivision
proposals a month," says Belt, who works for the Bureau of Land
Management. "Now it's 20 or 30 subdivisions a month along with
numerous requests for variations. You're hard pressed to find a
field that doesn't have red survey flags in it."
The county commission considered modest
regulation of ranchland development last winter and backed down
when it immediately met resistance. In four days farmers and
ranchers gathered nearly 1,000 signatures on a protest petition.
The protestors have hired a consultant and are drafting regulations
to suit themselves. The commissioners are talking
Keith Catlin, who has farmed in the
Uncompaghre Valley for 42 years, says stricter regulations are not
necessary because most farmers only sell off a parcel of their land
to keep their operations afloat. "There's really not that many
farmers that would intensively subdivide their lands," he says.
Besides, Catlin says, subdivisions have a place
in the county.
most of the fields that are now subdivisions. I'm not going to say
that's good or bad," says Catlin. "People have to have a place to
live. It's just the people who don't want us out running our
tractors after dark or spraying the fields that bother me."
About all frustrated planning advocates can do
is turn to the polls. They hope elect county commissioners who will
carry out some of the recommendations in the Valley Plan.
"Some people say we should
just let things evolve in Montrose County. I can't live with that,"
says Belt. "We have a window of opportunity now to plan for growth.
If we don't, this place will be a mess."