Gunnison County Adopts Urban Wilderness Interface Code – The Crested Butte News

Coming into force in January

[  By Katherine Nettles  ]

The Gunnison County Land Use Resolution (LUR) now contains new building code adjustments in response to a growing interface with urban wilderness lands, and the new codes will apply a higher standard of risk mitigation forest fire to all new building permit applications from 2023.

Gunnison County Commissioners held a public hearing on the proposal on Tuesday, Sept. 6 before voting unanimously to incorporate the 2021 International Wildland Urban Interface code also amending the LUR. The only suggestions came from two wildfire specialists who recommended further consideration of how the management of vegetation around homes is addressed and affects surrounding areas. The next steps are to publicize the details and prepare for increased public participation.

County officials have worked with various regional and state agencies and fire-related organizations since receiving a grant in 2019 for wildfire planning assistance. The Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) program prepared a proposal and updated wildfire mapping throughout Gunnison County in collaboration with local professionals and stakeholders. The county’s building department presented the potential changes to the Gunnison County Planning Commission earlier this year, and the commission officially recommended passage in July.

County commissioners spent about an hour discussing it in a public hearing and had no public comment or correspondence other than Jamie Gomez with the West Region Wildfire Council and Mike Tarantino with the local Gunnison office of the Colorado State Forest Service. Implementation/enforcement begins Jan. 1, 2023, but Gunnison County Community Planner Crystal Lambert said she can definitely begin preparation immediately.

Tarantino noted that the vegetation management plan included in the new code should allow property owners taking steps to improve their defensible space against potential wildfires to work with private entities. “As demand increases for these plans, this service may increase,” he said. Overall, Tarantino said Colorado State Forestry supports the new code and that Colorado may even adopt a similar code in the future.

“We recognize that conditions change…and likewise, any plan developed to that effect would likely change over time,” he concluded.

County Attorney Matthew Hoyt responded that if the state adopted a statewide code, the county and even neighboring counties might consider adjusting for efficiency and clarity. Gunnison County Deputy Director for Community and Economic Development Cathie Pagano agreed there may be opportunities to consider it at the state and national level.

Several people highlighted the importance of education and awareness in order for builders, contractors, landscapers and others in the building industry to change their practices over time.

“We’re playing the long game here, and that’s always the case with codes,” Pagano said.

Gomez praised all the planning work and suggested that on CPAW’s hazard rating map, vegetation planning on a property should not change the property’s overall hazard rating. “It’s really dictated by the terrain and the height of the forest,” he said, among other considerations that can’t be downgraded to mulch or a wood pile. He also pointed out the difference between a vegetation management plan and a defensible space. “My view is that if you’re in a high altitude area, you should make more defensible space.”

There were no further comments, but county officials said they would try to adjust their language and implementation to reflect comments and guidance from the two specialists.