The arthritis of regulation – Gunnison Country Times

Chris Rourke

In the last decade, I have had a number of arthroscopic surgeries, and while each surgery addressed the need at the time, those procedures left me vulnerable to high levels of arthritis. Most recently my doctor told me no more surgeries for me until I get knee replacement. Alas, in the medical world, often an intervention can lead to the need for more, very costly procedures. Arthritis is insidious.

The same is true with government intervention — a policy put in place leads to the need for more intervention and cost down the road. My concern is we are seeing this happen regularly, and while it may be incremental — a little here, a little there — cumulatively each action leads to further compression of our businesses, economy and livelihoods here in the Gunnison Valley.

Here is just one example. Last year, Gunnison County Commissioners and the county planning commission — led by now BOCC candidate Laura Puckett Daniels — agreed to restrict the maximum size of a home’s footprint. Puckett Daniels called for the most restrictive square footage of all those proposed. Commissioners justified their approval of reducing maximum square footage by half saying these homes could still be pursued through a minor impact change. That minor impact change requires a much higher level of review by staff, greater consideration by the planning commission and final approval by commissioners. All that time is money.

Yet, as reported in the newspapers last week, commissioners are now considering a fee increase to pay for more staff time. Staff is overworked, and “development should pay for itself.” With increasing financial pressures through supply chain issues, skyrocketing inflation and rising Interest rates aren’t development paying enough?

But it’s not “development” that pays for anything. It’s people that end up bearing the cost that’s passed on.

Reportedly, Commissioner Roland Mason admitted a proposed “cost modifier” will impact the middle class, a group already in asset poverty (they don’t own stuff) and therefore are less resilient to inflation. Is it a good idea to squeeze the already fading middle class?

Last year’s new regulation limiting maximum footprint size is just one example of increasing levels of project review. The key here is this: the greater the regulation, the more review time and cost. It’s very simple.

“One reason that current fees do not cover the full cost of review, is that they don’t adequately reflect the amount of time the process requires,” the Times reported. “For example, minor and major impact changes must be reviewed by county public works staff, environmental health personnel, the county attorney’s office, the planning commission and — ultimately — approved by county commissioners.”

Now those wishing to build will see a four-fold increase in review fees if approved.

What’s curious is that minor and major land use change applications, which require more review, have been decreasing or flat since 2017— an unusually busy year. Then why are they requiring so much time? It’s likely higher regulation.

Certainly, there has been an increase of building permits since 2017—about 60 more in 2021—and those merit staff time. Yet, the more regulations commissioners add to the Land Use Resolution that are not related to health and safety, one must ask if they are worth adding to building costs.

Right now, where my own health is concerned, I’ve had to get a little creative — I’m on a maintenance plan to keep me active, balancing lifestyle and other factors, and I’m doing just great with less intervention. Unfortunately , commissioners show little creative thought when it comes to balancing regulation and development. During a recent discussion with County Commissioners, I offered the notion that regulations should be examined to lessen cost, that we should encourage building in more ways than just subsidies as our housing The crisis grows more dire. My suggestion was quickly dismissed.

Before more fees are levied to make up for a staff time shortage, I ask commissioners to consider other budgeting options and do the hard work to examine what regulations may be unnecessary and costly. Take it page by page, considering public health and safety first. Less regulatory review time may make a difference.

Otherwise, perhaps we should consider replacement rather than more of these interventions.

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