County asked to join Enterprise Zone

Gilpin County Area DEMJohn Scarffe, Gilpin County.  Central City asked the Gilpin County Board of County Commissioners if the County would like to participate in the City’s application to join an Enterprise Zone during a regular meeting at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, November 1, 2016 at the Gilpin County Courthouse. The Board also considered granting variance requests in Russell Gulch and on Elk Place.

Central City Community Development Director Ray Rears told the Board that Central City is currently not part of an Enterprise Zone, which gives some incentives for the business community. The funds can be used where there is some need, such as low growing population areas.

“Central City has so many empty buildings, there must be some incentive for people to come in and occupy those buildings,” Rears said. The State recommended working with the Association of Governments for Northwest Colorado.

“Central City is working with the Association of Governments for Northwest Colorado and the Office of Economic Development and International Trade to be included in the State’s Enterprise Zone program,” Rears wrote in a letter to County Manager Roger Baker. The program provides businesses in designated areas with a tax credit against their state income tax liability.

Credits are earned for investment in personal property, job training and adding employees, providing health care benefits, increased research and development and rehabilitating vacant buildings for commercial use.  The letter states that “Central City could greatly benefit from the ability to use the EZ incentive for vacant building rehabilitations within the central, historic district.”

To be eligible, the property must be at least 20 years old and completely vacant for at least two years to claim a tax credit of 25 percent of the cost of rehabilitating the building for commercial use up to $50,000. Northwest Colorado recommended actions for Central City to complete, and one of them was to begin conversations with Black Hawk and Gilpin County to see if they would like to be included in the re-districting efforts for the Enterprise Zone.

“Central City sees this state incentive as a positive driver to help grow our local economy and wants to open this conversation up to our neighboring partners,” according to the letter.

Central City needs Gilpin County’s participation, Rears said. Low population and income levels would qualify the northern half of Gilpin County.

The only real negative is they would be required to pay an administrative fee of $2,000 annually, Rears said. “Central City is prepared to do that. We would work with local businesses interested in tax credits. Quite a number of benefits are connected with it.”

Central City has a meeting with Northwest Colorado on November 16th, so Rears wanted to talk to Black Hawk and Gilpin County before that. A proposal needs to be presented at the next meeting of Northwest Colorado, according to the letter.

“Are you interested in participating?” Rears asked. It would involve a cost to Central City but no cost to Gilpin County.

Enterprise Zone Districts are formed every ten years, but in between they are allowed to do some annexation. Central City would be annexed by a zone that includes Grand County. “This is a very good deal for everyone involved,” Rears said. “We’re not connected to Grand County, so we need Gilpin to be on board with this.”

Commissioner Buddy Schmalz said they should put together a letter of support, and Board Chair Linda Isenhart suggested tabling this for today and then creating a letter of support. Commissioner Gail Watson said, “I think you know you have our support.”

County Manager Roger Baker said he would place the item on the Board’s agenda for the November 15th meeting and give Rears a letter of support in time for the Northwest Colorado meeting on November 16th.

Community Development Director Tony Petersen presented two variance requests to the Board. Carl Schembri requested a variance that would permit the placement of a ground-mounted solar power array 40 feet from the centerline of Golden Dollar Road in Russell Gulch. Current County code requires a 55-foot setback.

Schembri made the request because the area is located on a severely south facing slope. The existing newly constructed house is located north of Golden Dollar Road, which is an unimproved non-County maintained road, Petersen said. The proposed solar location is in front of the existing house.

The setback compliance north of Golden Dollar Road would place the solar array within the early morning house shadow and the late afternoon hill shadow, compromising its effectiveness, Petersen said. In addition, locating the array 55 feet south of the road centerline would require removing several shade trees, and it would be closer to a neighboring house.

Petersen said the proposed location would allow him to adjust the array seasonally. Staff was in favor of this. If Golden Dollar Road were improved in the future, it would be a rural access road, which requires only a 30-foot setback.

Isenhart said she doesn’t see that this has a lot of impact on the area. “It seems to be a pretty sensible application of solar.”

Watson said that, in general, we hope that people purchase property where they don’t need a variance. “We don’t want to set precedence – ask for a variance and you’ll get one. We have a lot of these types of properties. We rely on staff to let us know what makes sense and what doesn’t.”

The Board approved the variance request. Ben Crabb, of Elk Place, requested a variance permitting the placement of a 1200-square-foot garage within 15 feet of both the west and south property lines fronting Lakeview Drive, Petersen said.
Current code requires a 30-foot setback from both property lines. This request for a garage is 30 by 40 feet in size, Petersen said.

The house is accessed from Elk Place, but the garage would need to be accessed from Lake View, because there is no available space along the side of the house. The lot slopes steeply from the north to south making access from Elk Place to the back of the house impractical, due to excessive grade.

Staff proposed an alternative that would not affect the neighbors as much. A smaller garage would offer more options, but the purpose of the proposed garage would be to house a large RV and other recreational vehicles.

Staff proposed placing the garage 30 feet from the west property line and moving the building site five feet closer to the south property line to lessen the grade of the access drive and provide more buffer between the garage and the septic field.

Petersen said they would still need that variance. Isenhart said it looks like a very built up lot. Every square inch is taken up.

Neighbors of Crabb, who attended the meeting, said they didn’t understand the need for a garage. “He already has a huge house with an attached two-car garage, and now he wants another one. It’s not the same neighborhood we moved into.”

They asked that the garage be kept as far away from their property as possible. “We have dogs and they’ll be going nuts. As long as it’s not two story it will be okay.”

The neighbors were assured that it will not be a two-story building. It will be low profile, half underground and half over ground.

Watson said the compromise might be the thing to do here. Reduce the size and mandate that it not be a two-story building. She suggested putting it back to the owner.

Isenhart said the owner should come back to us. “I think this is a huge impact on a real small piece of land. I’d vote against it at this point.”

Schmalz moved that the Commissioners table these pending building plans, and Petersen said he will pass this along to the owner. County Manager Roger Baker said they needed to continue it to a specific day or time because it’s a public hearing. Schmalz made a motion to continue the hearing to November 15th at 9 a.m. and the Board approved.

(Published in the November 17, 2016 print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)