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Candidates set sights on county land codes

Pierrette J. Shields
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Whoever wins the two open seats on the Board of County Commissioners come November will likely have to help disentangle years of land-use regulations that some believe have become unpredictable and subjective.

In fact, the candidates running for the posts seem to be on the same page regarding the need for revamping Boulder County’s land-use code.

The code is the county’s rule book for how and where certain kinds of development can be constructed. County planners help walk residents who want to build through the review process, but the planners’ decisions ultimately are evaluated and decided by the county commissioners.

Democrats Will Toor and Garry Sanfaçon will meet in the Aug. 10 primary for a chance at the District 1 commissioner seat currently held by term-limited Paul Danish. One of them will face Libertarian Jeffrey Christen-Mitchell.

Both Democrats are looking to overhaul the regulations to reduce bureaucracy.

Toor, the outgoing mayor of Boulder, and Sanfaçon, a Nederland-area resident who has taken time off from his job as a planning and leadership consultant to run for office, have different visions for the code update.

“My sense is that in general, we can do more to make it predictable and do more to maintain a positive relationship (with residents),” Toor said.

He also would like to see any review include “green-building requirements,” such as requiring some developers to buy development rights on another piece of land to preserve in exchange for developing their property.

Toor said he also has heard of codes requiring renewable-energy resources, like solar energy, to be integrated into development.

Sanfaçon believes the commissioners should be removed altogether from the review process, which dictates the specifics of building projects in unincorporated parts of the county.

“When (the commissioners) get involved, it brings a level of subjectivity into the mix,” Sanfaçon said. “I appreciate what they are trying to do, but I think they should leave that to the professionals” in the county’s Land Use Department.

Christen-Mitchell said that while he is not intimately familiar with the land-use code, he wants to see it evenly applied in the future.

Under current land-use standards, Boulder County’s chief elected officials often find themselves reviewing site plans for applications in person, visiting properties to look at factors such as building footprints, access and wildfire mitigation.

In the District 2 race, Democrat Ben Pearlman, Republican Roger Lange and Libertarian Paul Tiger will meet on the November ballot for control of the seat currently held by term-limited Ron Stewart.

Pearlman, a Boulder County attorney who works on open space acquisitions, said that every time he has had to work with the land-use code, he’s found a problem with it.

“If I were elected , it is something I would tackle right away,” he said. “It needs to be shorter and clearer and, in particular, not subject to different interpretations.”

Pearlman said the land-use code should be rewritten in a standards-based format, removing some of the discretion allowed now.

“It ended up being something of a rickety structure,” he said.

Tiger said the regulations are an issue he has long been interested in tackling. He said it should be easier to reference earlier decisions through computer software that could search for precedents.

Tiger, like the other candidates, said he would like to see predictable standards applied without subjectivity.

Lange said he is not familiar enough with the land-use code to comment on it.

“I would rather look at it more in detail before I comment on what should be changed or shouldn’t be changed,” he said.

Pierrette J. Shields can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 273, or by e-mail at