While some foothills residents asked the Jefferson County commissioners to place a moratorium on new development in unincorporated Jeffco, the commissioners approved three changes to the wildfire regulations and a Conifer development.
The moratorium was requested to give the county’s Planning & Zoning staff time to work through comprehensive changes to wildfire regulations and the county’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan, speakers at the Jan. 18 commissioners meeting said. The commissioners did not discuss the request.
In the meantime, the commissioners unanimously approved three changes to the wildfire regulations that govern unincorporated parts of the county, with staff saying these were quick changes in advance of more comprehensive changes to the regulations. The three changes are: requiring proof of fire protection at the time a building permit is issued, allowing the Board of Adjustment to consider requests for changes to wildfire mitigation site plans as a special exception rather than a variance; and requiring that all additions to a structure have defensible space.
The commissioners in a 2-1 vote approved rezoning six acres on Kitty Drive behind the Staples shopping center from Agriculture 2 and planned development to a new planned development that allows commercial and light industrial. The new zoning does not allow outdoor RV storage, which was in the original rezoning application and caused concern from neighbors.
In the aftermath of the Marshall Fire in Boulder County plus recent fires in Clear Creek County and Ken Caryl, concern about mitigating fire risk, evacuation routes and resident safety were of utmost importance to speakers.
David Chapman, who represented the Mountain Area Community Coalition and homeowners associations, reminded commissioners of the gridlock during a recent snowstorm when vehicles had no access route to the foothills. He said that sort of gridlock during a wildfire would mean the loss of life.
“I believe we should deny the proposed regulation amendments because we do need to go back to the drawing board and address this in a more comprehensive fashion where we can be focused,” Chapman said. “Let’s eliminate distractions.”
Among many suggestions and concerns he expressed, he said the Wildlife Urban Interface definition needed to be increased to include property at 5,500 feet of elevation rather than the 6,400 feet of elevation currently used, especially after watching homes burn in the Marshall Fire.
“(Moratoriums) are intended to be used to enable the county to address this problem in a comprehensive fashion that resolves the issue and eliminates the challenges,” he explained.
He urged that the planning-and-zoning process involve fire departments and water districts sooner to assess fire protection capabilities and fire flow in areas that have hydrants to ensure it complies with the International Fire Code.
He encouraged the county to required developers to address risk mitigation including the adequacy of evacuation routes, roadside mitigation and fuel breaks, plus the resources available for firefighting and evacuation.
Speaker John Lewis reminded the commissioners that development in the foothills requires a different set of rules and regulations, especially regarding environmental sensitivity, wildlife management, fire migitation and evacuation, egress, and water availability. He suggested that the Comprehensive Master Plan for the foothills should become a mandate rather than a guide.
Jeffco planner Felicity Sevolski said requiring proof of fire protection at the time a building permit is issued would entail a letter from the fire protection district where the property is located. Some have questioned whether the change goes far enough, she said, and Planning & Zoning staff believe it’s a step in the right direction, and the language can always be revised later.
The second change corrects what Sevolski called an oversight in the regulations. The language about requests for changes to the wildfire mitigation site plan moves from a variance to a special exception.
The third change updates the required defensible space review for building permits within the Wildfire Hazard Overlay District that includes Evergreen and Conifer. The new requirements say a building permit won’t be issued “for any new structure, replacement of an existing structure or an addition to a structure until written evidence has been submitted by a qualified forester that defensible space and associated fuel-break thinnings have been created around the structure, or a wildfire mitigation site plan has been reviewed and a special exception has been granted by the Board of Adjustment. …”
Sevolski explained to the Planning Commission in December that the change will look at unintended consequences of increasing the footprint of any building. The regulation had required defensible space on a building addition of 400 square feet or more.
In recommending adopting the changes, Planning Commission members said they couldn’t argue with the need for more defensible space around buildings, but they also didn’t want the change to cause an undue burden on property owners.
This is property owner Dave Figuli’s second attempt to rezone the property, and in response to neighbor concerns, he changed the planned use for the property from RV storage to other commercial or light industrial uses with minimal outdoor storage that will be shielded from view.
The Planning Commission and Planning & Zoning staff recommended approval of the rezoning.
Several residents urged the commissioners to vote against the proposed rezoning, saying the proposed uses go against the Comprehensive Master Plan, development on the property would negatively impact neighbors, the development would increase traffic on Highway 73 and U.S. 285, and fire protection is inadequate for the property.
Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper voted against the rezoning, saying she was concerned that Elk Creek Fire Protection District said it could only provide fire protection to buildings up to 30 feet high, and she was concerned there wasn’t enough water to provide fire protection.
“As we look at the five criteria that we have to consider, the one I still have concerns about is the effect on the health, safety and welfare of landowners in the surrounding area,” Dahlkemper said. “I have some concerns about evacuation and traffic during a fire. … We know it’s a huge issue for this community and the surrounding area.”
Jeffco planners reminded the commissioners that specifics about the development would be vetted during the site development plan process.