Locals behind effort to change land-use laws
Two Roaring Fork Valley residents who have fought for decades with Pitkin County over land-use restrictions are behind a proposed constitutional Initiative to radically change how government regulations affect private property.The measure is in limbo as it awaits an upcoming Colorado Supreme Court decision, but it is still expected to go before the voters in November.Bill Mohrman, of Aspen, and Betty Lamont, who lives up the Fryingpan Valley east of Basalt, are working to get Initiative 86 on the ballot to amend the Colorado Constitution.Mohrman said the proposed initiative is loosely patterned after Measure 37, which Oregon voters passed in 2004. That measure also spells out how governments compensate private landowners when certain kinds of regulations diminish their property values.Mohrman, who ran an auto-body repair shop at the Aspen Business Center for years, has been fighting with Pitkin County for a decade over his efforts to build a 2,200-square-foot house on a patented mining claim he owns in the Hunter Creek Valley/Van Horn Park area.The county downzoned his property when the controversial rural and remote zoning passed in the mid-1990s. It is reportedly the last remaining private inholding in Van Horn Park.Lamont also was a vocal opponent of the county’s rural and remote zoning.If approved, Initiative 86 would require, under its most basic interpretation, that governments compensate landowners at “fair market value” if land-use regulations diminish a landowner’s property values by 20 percent or more, or exempt the property from the land-use regulations in question.It applies to properties purchased before 1970 that are still owned by the same owner or a relative. The owners of such properties would be entitled to compensation from local governments if they can show that land-use regulations adopted since 1970 have diminished their property value by 20 percent or more. The initiative would not apply to situations in which land-use regulations went into effect before 1970. A separate, controversial clause states that the new law shall not apply to land-use regulations that were both “enacted after 1970 but prior to acquisition of the property by the owner or a family member of the owner.” Critics of the initiative, however, say it is a thinly disguised attempt to unravel decades worth of land-use regulations all over Colorado. They maintain the initiative is based on a similar effort two years ago, when wealthy Pitkin County landowner Peter Droste, working with State Rep. Gregg Rippy and Pitkin County’s state senator, Lewis Entz, tried to win passage of Colorado Senate Bill 215. Droste, too, had been involved in protracted battles with Pitkin County over his efforts to develop land he owns in the Brush Creek area. Senate Bill 215 was written to provide exemptions to certain state regulations giving counties the authority to enact and enforce land-use controls.The senate tabled that bill after the Colorado Municipal League and a number of Colorado counties lobbied to defeat the measure. A news story characterized the bill as “one landowner’s attempt to challenge Pitkin County’s land-use regulations through special legislation after repeated defeats in court.” It was not clear if Droste, a friend of Mohrman and Lamont, is backing this year’s initiative effort.Initiative critics say the wording is broad enough that it would mean any landowner in the state would have to obey only those land-use regulations adopted before the land was purchased. The initiative, they maintain, would exempt landowners from any regulations adopted after the purchase of the land.Attempts to reach Mohrman were unsuccessful. But his attorney, Scott Gessler of Denver, said the critics’ argument is “not quite true. It’s not entirely false, either … they’re taking a concept and sort of stretching it to its maximum scare potential.”The initiative effort has hit a temporary snag, however, in a formal objection by two men – Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger and farmer Michael Bowman of Wray – who have forced the matter into the lap of the Colorado Supreme Court.Monger and Bowman have argued that the “title” of the proposed initiative is “inaccurate and misleading.” They have asked the Supreme Court to order new language.The title, which the Colorado Secretary of State’s Title Board approved, is the language that would appear on the ballots in November, as well as on petitions used to gather the more than 67,000 signatures required to get the issue on the ballot.Monger and Bowman maintain that the title, as approved, fails to mention a number of critical issues, including how it would redefine important terms such as “public entity” and “land-use regulation” in Colorado law, and the fact that the measure “applies retroactively to land-use regulations that have been in effect since 1970.””This thing here basically throws everything in the toilet” as far as land-use laws passed in the last 35 years or so, Monger said Friday from his ranch near Hayden. He said the initiative would cripple governmental land-use controls because the measure would mean “you start out from scratch. I am totally opposed to this … this is setting land-use and the world back a hundred years.”He said he got involved after an environmental organization, Environment Colorado, contacted him about being one of the “objectors” to the measure’s title. That organization, along with Pitkin County, are among those that are paying the legal fees of a Denver law firm, Isaacson Rosenbaum P.C., to argue the case before the Supreme Court.A decision is expected in June. The proponents of Initiative 86 will then have until mid-August to gather the signatures required to put the matter to the voters in November.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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