By Roger Baker
The large and diverse crowd at the recreational sport shooting management open house last Thursday night at the Community Center illustrated the challenge of making public policy here in Gilpin County.
On recreational use of firearms in our national forests, as in so many other areas, there’s just not a clear consensus on what should and should not be allowed, much less where. Even those folks who might be very much in favor of a developed shooting range in the County might object strongly if the best site for one turned out to be on their favorite hiking trail or campsite.
That sort of objection, of course, finds its way into many otherwise rational discussions as well. For example, many Gilpinites heat their homes (or at least their hot water) with propane. And although we all realize (or would if we thought about it) that the propane we use has to be stored somewhere, when we see those big storage tanks being moved into OUR neighborhood, we voice our heated objections for any number of good (and bad) reasons.
That’s why having processes in place for dealing with issues like these is so necessary. If all of Gilpin County were zoned residential, for example, we’d never get any commercial development, no matter how necessary or desirable. Though we all enjoy and utilize Roy’s Last Shot, for example, or the pharmacy in Rollinsville (to say nothing of a United Power substation, or the aforementioned propane storage tanks), no one is particularly thrilled with the idea of living next door to these businesses.
So the County long ago designed commercially zoned areas where such businesses (once they demonstrate compliance with local and state regulations) can find a home without having to make everyone – including the closest neighbor – entirely happy.
In a lot of ways, of course, the rights given to landowners and developers through the zoning process are the same for residential development, as well.
Even those few residents who grew up in the County rarely live in the homes in which they were raised; so to some extent or another, we’re all “newcomers.” As the subdivisions that were platted in the 1970s and 80s fill up, once-vacant lots are built upon. The landowners have the right to build homes on those lots, as long as they comply with County regulations (which are, generally, becoming increasingly stringent).
Most of us recognize that right, and if a new home obstructs our view, or takes up a vacant lot that we were used to thinking of as our private open space, we understand that our homes, too, were built on what was once undeveloped land.
Economic conditions, more than our land use regulations, have prevented the sort of large-scale development (either commercial or residential) that most residents dread. Those regulations are designed to at least mitigate impacts that commercial or residential development can have, while respecting the rights of private landowners to use their lands in an appropriate manner.
As those economic conditions improve though, additional development pressure may increase as well. Will someone want to build a large subdivision, a strip mall, a Safeway?
For now, such questions are largely theoretical. But when an application for such a project is received (if ever), the County will apply the rules and regulations it has established over decades to make sure that such development is in harmony with our existing zoning and land use. We can’t, shouldn’t and won’t “close the door” to anything or anyone new coming into our County. But we all have to play by the same rules.