OPINION: Delta County planning system broken

JoAnn Kalenak, Senior Blogger, DCCR — A couple of weeks ago, Delta County Planning Commissioners voted seven-to-one to recommend approval of a new chicken barn on Fruitland Mesa. Some sixty residents attended the open meeting; nine spoke in favor and nine against.

There was also a giant elephant in the room — an elephant in the shape of water, or lack of water, to be clear.

The applicant, a recent Missouri transplant, readily admitted that he had no water source for the 20,000 chickens he’d hoped to house in his new chicken barn.

STOP RIGHT THERE…..is what the Planning Commissioners should have done, but more importantly, that’s what Delta County’s planning department should have done since current specific development regulations require water for a project like the one being proposed.

One Planning Commissioner, chair Bob Stechert, did in fact, vote no on the grounds that the application was incomplete and Crawford Area Planning Committee member, Bob Pennetta, recommended tabling the application until a proven water source was made available.

So how did an incomplete application find its way out of the Delta County planning department and find favor with the Planning Commission?

Seems to me that the county failed to do its job and the Planning Commissioners lost sight of theirs.

Never mind the health and safety arguments — only residents brought up these issues at the meeting. Never mind the economic and ag arguments focused on by the Planning Commissioners — factors outside their role as a review commission. Never mind the $100,000 county paycheck that planning consultant Kelly Yeager has brought home for the past four years. This application was clearly flawed and the decision should have been a no-brainer.

While the PC voted to recommend approval (they can only recommend approval or denial of an application to County Commissioners), they also included a requirement that no construction begin until a legal water source was developed. Interestingly, among the planning department’s handful of additional recommendations for this application, water wasn’t one of them.

Further, the county didn’t require a traffic study, another element of the current specific development regulations. Many area residents expressed extreme concern about the dangerous Fruitland Mesa roads that semi’s would travel to service the operation.

Fellow residents, are we being “spoon-fed” corner-to-corner agricultural zoning for everyone living outside a municipality? Or do we have a county government that really doesn’t give a hoot about its own regulations?

In the midst of a land-use code rewrite and the hotbed CAFO controversy, I’m extremely worried about our county’s ability to competently manage planning in the county.

I think we all should be worried.

(NOTE: Commissioners will hear the application on Monday, Nov. 5, at an open business meeting.)