Ranchers uneasy about growth curb

Amendment 24 still leaving voters with questions about development


When voters mark their ballots in November, some agricultural producers and agencies are afraid that a "yes" vote for Amendment 24 could mean another blow to farmers and ranchers, but advocates of the growth act say it is written to protect rural areas.

Amendment 24, otherwise known as the Responsible Growth Act, would require a citizen vote to approve any development in areas that are not designated by the county as a growth center.

According to the act, agriculture is not defined as development and any structure built to support agriculture would be exempt.

Also, commercial and industrial development that supports agricultural businesses is exempt. For example, it would be possible build a feed and grain store in a non-growth center without a community vote if it were needed in the community.

"This was set up to stop leap-frog development and designed to protect agricultural land," said Robb Wolfson, land-use advocate for the nonprofit Colorado Public Interest Research Group.

Wolfson explained that the idea behind the growth act is to direct development into places that don't affect agricultural lands.

"It's trying to provide some assurance that (development) is not adjacent to ag lands," he said.

In addition,

all developments would have to have central water after 10 years of being built, freeing up aquifers that Wolfson said are often used by ranchers and farmers.

Though Amendment 24 limits subdivision developments, 35-acre parcels of land and land preservation subdivision still can be pursued by landowners without depending on voter approval.

Despite the exemptions, Dan Craig, local rancher and president of the Routt County Farm Bureau, is worried about the act passing because it puts some limitations on what we farmers can do with their land, he said.

"It's too broad and binding," he said

His biggest fear is that the act could affect property value. Once developers see how difficult it will be to develop on land outside of growth zones, the demand for the land will go down. For the career ranchers, that could cause trouble with obtaining mortgages on the land, Craig feared.

The Colorado Farm Bureau is equally concerned, claiming that the growth act will restrict livestock operations. Confined animal feeding operations are restricted from any expansion. CAFOs are not defined in the act and sometimes are clarified by the county.

Routt County doesn't define what a CAFO is, but county planner Chad Phillips assumed that it means a feedlot, which is not common in the Yampa Valley.

Wolfson said if a county doesn't officially define a CAFO, if the operation is labeled as agricultural it will not have to receive voter approval.

In counties that do define a CAFO, agricultural supporters are worried that the amendment will essentially tie the hands of anyone wanting to expand their operation, assuming that voters wouldn't approve the development. The Colorado Farm Bureau fears that, in time, corn and hay growers who depend on selling to feed lots would be jeopardized.

"There's so many things about this we don't know about," Craig said of the effects the act could have on agriculture.

Particularly is the fact that local issues in growth would be controlled by a state mandate.

"I'd rather be in a situation to be able to go down and argue with my county commissioner about it instead of having a state mandate saying, 'This is how it is,'" Craig said.


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