New Montezuma County Planning Director Don Haley has a background in the construction business and is a longtime local.
Haley studied construction management at Colorado State University, and has worked for more than 30 years in the industry. He has worked for local companies, including Southwest Construction, Neilsons and Nunn Construction.
“I’ve been on the applicant side of our planning process, so I understand the developers’ perspective and will help guide them through our process,” he said.
The planning office handles a variety of land-use projects, from simple and major subdivisions and rezoning to housing projects and new and expanded businesses.
Projects must comply with the Montezuma County land-use code and are reviewed by the planning and zoning board. Final approval is determined by Board of County Commissioners.
“When an applicant comes in with their plans, we refer to our land-use code, then start them through the process,” he said.
There is a misconception that the county does not have planning and zoning, Haley said.
While there is not a building code for actual construction per se (electrical and septic require inspections), there is a land-use code outlining procedures and regulations for development, including for driveways, utilities, subdivision roads, setbacks and septic systems.
As with any land-use code, private property rights are protected within the limits of the regulations. Haley said the code is not overly burdensome, but it is a process.
Projects require public notice and have to be reviewed by two boards, and that takes some time. Variances can be negotiated between landowners and must be approved by the county commission.
Rural residents should be aware that their neighbors have the right to subdivide and build, Haley said.
“Often, you see someone who bought in an open space area upset about a neighbor’s development plans, but the reality is if they don’t want that, then they need to buy the property,” he said.
The department has created a checklist for developers to inform them of the process and fees, and all of the forms and documents are online.
Haley said there are no plans for major changes to the land use code or planning process. The small office is keeping up with applicants, he said.
Landowners sometimes trip up on reviewing subdivision covenants before considering a project, Haley said. Covenants are legal rules for properties within a subdivision and are recorded by the Montezuma County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, so they are publicly available.
Covenants can limit development or subdividing, regulate for the types of homes, outline easements and define allowable uses, such as commercial businesses.
“If a subdivision has a covenants, then a landowner project must first comply with that before coming to us,” Haley said. To change a subdivision covenant, the other property owners must agree.
A long-term goal of the planning department is more outreach to try and attract economic development, but the specifics of that plan haven’t been worked out.
The county land-use code and comprehensive plan are more than 20 years old. Some minor updates are needed, but “we are not going to add a bunch of regulations,” Haley said. The office plans to do the job in house in the next two years with the help from the planning and zoning commission.