Commissioners favor solar arrays – but not to detriment of neighbors

Radio communications, shooting range, floodplain ordinance

By Lynn Volkens

Gilpin County Commissioners Buddy Schmalz, Connie McLain and Gail Watson met the morning of March 12, 2013. They took steps to move forward in establishing a radio communications network, shooting range, floodplain regulations and they heard from a resident needing a variance to put a solar panel array at her private residence.

After-Prom Funding Request

  Susan Hastings and Marylou Harrison, representing the Nederland High School After-Prom Committee asked Commissioners to consider contributing funds for the after-prom activities to be held in Boulder. They said that 70 students, grades 9-12, would attend and said that 42 of them were students from Gilpin County. Commissioners donated $1,000 and asked that future requests be made at budget time. Commissioner McLain asked the group to consider holding their future events within their community, rather than in Boulder.

Clerk and Recorder’s Report

  The Gilpin County Clerk and Recorder’s January 2013 report showed revenues of $163,404 for the month. Of that, $63,362 was disbursed to the State; $67,670 to the Gilpin County Treasurer; $9,196 to Central City; $77 to Black Hawk; $21 to the Police Officers Standards and Training fund (POST); and the Clerk’s office retained $23,078. Motor Vehicle Late Fees raised $3,140 in revenues and Uninsured Motorist Fees, $297. No disbursements were made to the Colorado Domestic Abuse or State Health Funds, as funding for those purposes is generated by marriage license fees, and no one had purchased a marriage license in January.

Floodplain Ordinance

  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requires the County to adopt updated floodplain regulations that comply with National Flood Insurance Program rules by January 14, 2014. Gilpin’s floodplain ordinance was last adopted in 1989 so must be updated to remain on good terms with FEMA. County Planner Ray Rears proposed an ordinance based on one obtained from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which he had customized to meet Gilpin’s needs. The point of the ordinance is to minimize flood losses.

One of the revisions is that which requires a one-foot freeboard, the distance between the level of the floodplain and that of the lowest point of entry to a structure, for non-critical facilities. Critical facilities must have a two-foot freeboard. Basements will not be permitted for structures built within a floodplain, except when granted via variance. Commissioners, as the Board of Adjustment, have final say should there be an appeal of the administrator’s decision.

The ordinance designates the County Planner or County Building Official as the Floodplain Administrator in charge of implementing and enforcing the ordinance’s provisions, including approval  and denial of permits for development within a floodplain area. In Gilpin County the main floodplains are located in mainly the Apex area and along the waterways such as near Tolland and the South Beaver Creek areas.

New ordinances are few and far between for County Commissioners; the last one being in 2011. Commissioners approved this ordinance on First Reading, but prior to final adoption, the Floodplain Ordinance will again come before Commissioners for Second Reading. That will be on April 9, 2013.

Norton Drive Solar Array

  Virginia Lipsky requested a variance to construct a photovoltaic array (ground-mounted solar panels used to convert solar into electric power) at her 341 Norton Drive property. Lipsky proposed installing the array five feet from the east property line, a 25-foot reduction from the County’s required 30-feet setback. There is a wetland area bordering the proposed site. The County also requires a 30-foot setback from wetlands. According to representatives of Golden Solar Electric, LLC, there is no other viable location on Lipsky’s 1.2-acre parcel; another location would require a large amount of excavation or would be subjected to too much shading from nearby trees, thus reducing production by as much as one third.

During the Public Hearing for this variance, Commissioners heard from two neighbors who opposed the variance because of aesthetics, negative effect on property values and interference with wildlife in the area. Other neighbors, unable to attend the hearing, had written a letter opposing the array for the same reasons and noting that the County had enacted the setback requirements in consideration of how one resident’s actions could affect the neighbors. The approximate size of the array would be 35’ x 11’ and 12’ in height. That would “take up about one fourth to one third of the view from my picture window,” one neighbor told Commissioners.

All three Commissioners told Lipsky that they, and the County, are in favor of solar power – to such a degree that the County waives permit fees for them, however, they could not disregard the impact to the neighbors. Commissioner Schmalz commented that the setbacks were created specifically to minimize impact to neighbors and that the variance being requested, 25 feet, was not a small one. Commissioners also had unresolved concerns about the status of an impact to the wetlands. They denied the variance.

Employee Retirement Plan

  Commissioners approved a 401 (a) Participation Agreement Amendment to the Colorado County Officials and Employees Retirement Association Retirement Plan and Trust Agreement. Human Resources Director Susie Allen explained that the CCOERA agreement had previously defined commissions as “bonuses” and had excluded them when calculating contributions related to retirement. Commissions are used in a very limited manner and only for Parks and Recreation instructors and lifeguards who teach private/semi-private lessons. CCOERA had suggested that it would be better to specify “commissions” as exclusions. The revision to the language of the agreement has no fiscal impact for the County.

Shooting Range MOU

  In order to collaborate with federal, state and other county jurisdictions to develop sport shooting ranges across the northern Front Range of Colorado, Commissioners approve a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) encompassing Gilpin, Boulder, Clear Creek and Larimer Counties, the United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, Pawnee National Grassland and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Northeast Region. The non-binding , five-year MOU simply establishes the players and guidelines which will be used to prepare a strategy for identifying viable locations for shooting ranges, areas where the ranges should be restricted, development of education programs, how to implement plans for the ranges and ways to share funding for them. The MOU is a five-phase process which includes holding meetings to solicit input from stakeholders. The objective is to get the strategy in place this month, with planning and implementation to begin next winter. County Manager Roger Baker said the County’s participation in this MOU would not preclude moving ahead “on our own, but no one else would be chipping in any money in that case.” As people from the metro areas are now using multiple forested locations to shoot, one of the important aspects of working together is also to implement areas where shooting would be restricted and possibly to better enable enforcement, he said. County Planner Ray Rears will be Gilpin County’s representative for this project.

Communications MOU

Commissioners approved a Communications Network MOU between Gilpin and the City of Black Hawk, Clear Creek County and the Evergreen Fire Protection District to establish the Gilpin/Clear Creek Communications Consortium. That consortium is to establish guidelines for governing, operating and maintaining a regional radio network which the parties are building cooperatively. The radio system will be comprised of equipment owned separately by each party, but on-going maintenance and operation costs are to be divided between all parties. Emergency Preparedness Director, Steve Watson, will be Gilpin’s representative. There is no money involved at this “discussion” stage of the project.

Departmental Reports

  The Human Resources February report shows 179 people employed by the County at the end of that month (111 full-time) and 24 volunteers. Three part-time employees had been hired and one part-time employee had left. In the Property Tax Work-Off Program, eight of the twelve seniors participating had completed their work hours doing tasks such as preparing tax notices for mailing, scanning documents and maps, and assisting with family fun events at the Community Center.

At Public Works, the January reports shows the Road & Bridge crew had done grading work on Dancing Star Lane, Lippincott Drive, Star Peak Road and Upper Wedgwood Road; drainage work in Dory Lakes; ice mitigation on Tolland, Lump Gulch and Moon Gulch Roads and frozen culverts on Pickle Gulch, Hughesville, South Beaver Creek, Wedgwood and Gilpin Roads plus Dynamite Drive; and had made expansion improvements to the trash transfer site to accommodate e-waste recycling. The pit of wood chips for the Biomass System was infused with 144 yards of chips. Research continues on the Highway Users Tax Fund right-of-way spreadsheet, emergency evacuation route signs and W-beam guardrail prices. The Solid Waste division sold 72 punch cards in January and reported raising $7,420 in revenue for the month. Ninety tons of trash was hauled to BFI at a cost of $1,881 and 24 tons of material was recycled, representing $424 in revenue. The Fleet Division worked on 23 of the County’s vehicles. Repair costs totaled $7,178.

The Parks and Recreation Department’s February report records 5,039 visits to the Community Center for the month with 1,307 unique individuals making those visits. Drop-In Admission raised $2,092 and Membership Fees, $3,352.  The Youth Basketball League concluded and Adult COED Volleyball is underway. Folks continue to enjoy the ice skating pond.

The Sheriff’s Office/Detentions Division February report shows 86 total bookings for the month (63 male). The break-down by arresting agency: Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office, 51; Black Hawk Police Department, 22; Central City Police Department, 7; Division of Gaming, 4; and Colorado State Patrol, 2. Fifty-eight of the arrests were gaming-related and sixteen were domestic/victim-related.  Fourteen of those arrested were Gilpinites. The average daily population of the jail for February was 52 inmates. County Manager Baker observed that the number of inmates was the highest since 24 hour gaming took effect and that the increasing number of inmates “is getting to be a problem.”

Thank You, Commissioners

  Nederland Area Seniors, Incorporated wrote to thank the Commissioners for awarding them a grant of $720. Over 100 mountain seniors are served by this agency with nutrition and wellness services and educational, cultural and social opportunities. Seniors residing in north-Gilpin tend to use these services, in lieu of (or in addition to) those offered at the Gilpin County Community Center.

DOLA Representatives

  Commissioner Schmalz won his colleagues’ nomination for consideration as a gaming host county representative on the Department of local Affairs (DOLA) Limited Gaming Impact Program Advisory Committee. This 13-member committee hears presentations and makes recommendations regarding the annual gaming fund grant awards.  The position open represents the five-county area of Gilpin, Jefferson, Clear Creek, Boulder and Grand Counties and has a term that expires on June 30, 2017. Previously it was held by a Clear Creek County commissioner. Teller County, the other gaming host county, has had a representative on the committee since the beginning, however Gilpin has never had one. “This is a great opportunity to get our voice heard,” Commissioner Schmalz said. In order to win the position, Schmalz will have to be voted in by other members on that committee.

Attorney’s Update

  County Attorney Jim Petrock informed Commissioners that “In the Brannan Quarry marathon,” (litigation that has been ongoing since 2008), all of the briefs had been submitted to the court and oral arguments are scheduled for April 17, 2013. “That should be the last step in the process,” Petrock said.

Petrock also informed Commissioners that the court had ruled in favor of the County regarding objections to the County’s water augmentation plan involving water use at the Justice Center. Two residents who have wells located within 600 feet of the Justice Center wells, had claimed the water use had detrimental effects on their wells and had pursued the matter in court.

Work Session

Following the business meeting, Commissioners held a work session with Human Resources Director Susie Allen to discuss guidelines for the County’s severance package.

Heads Up

  Gilpin County Commissioners meet next on March 26, 2013.

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