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At its regular meeting Tuesday, the Moffat County Commission:
• Approved, 2-0, an accounts payable warrant resolution.
• Approved, 2-0, a payroll warrant resolution.
• Approved, 2-0, the transfer of intergovernmental funds resolution.
• Approved, 2-0, the Maybell Sanitation District planning and design assistance grant agreement.
• Appointed, 2-0, Rick Barnes as an alternate to the planning and zoning board.
— Commissioner Audrey Danner was absent from the meeting.
The Moffat County Commission hosted a public hearing Tuesday to review a conditional use permit application by Mountain Home Youth Ranch.
The ranch, which has operated without a permit in Greystone for 11 months, “is a therapeutic growth program for troubled teens (co-ed ages 12 to 17),” according to the group’s website.
The ranch group, based in Vernal, Utah, plans to serve 100 to 120 teens per year.
The commission did not make a decision on the application Tuesday. Commissioner Tom Mathers said a decision would be announced at next week’s commission meeting.
The program came under scrutiny from local residents after an incident in November 2010 in which four juvenile males from the ranch allegedly broke into a home owned by Monty Sheridan, and stole a loaded shotgun before attempting to steal a truck.
More than 25 area residents attended Tuesday’s commission meeting. There were voices of opposition and support for the ranch at the meeting.
Moffat County Planner Jerry Hoberg began the meeting with a brief history of Mountain Home Youth Ranch’s presence in the county.
The group originally approached Hoberg for a conditional use permit for a property the group purchased in the Skull Creek area. That permit was granted.
However, Hoberg learned in January that the group moved its operation to property leased in Greystone. Hoberg asked the group to apply for a new conditional use permit to reflect the new location.
In the meantime, the ranch was allowed to continue doing business, which is customary, Hoberg said.
“In the past, when we have discovered people that need a conditional use permit … they are approached,” Hoberg said. “I tell them, ‘You need to apply for a conditional use permit,’ and they go through the process. But, we don’t shut them down.”
On April 5, the county planning commission discussed a conditional use permit for the ranch group, but the matter was tabled to allow time for more discussion.
Then, on May 3, the planning commission approved the permit. However, the county commission needed to provide 15 days of public notice before voting on it.
With the background established, Moffat County Attorney Jeremy Snow addressed the commissioners and described their legal duties in the matter.
Snow said the commissioners would be required by law to grant the conditional use permit if ranch officials could provide evidence that the ranch was a licensed school, and if it satisfied nine criteria set forth in the Moffat County Zoning Resolution and Subdivision Regulation Manual.
Ranch counselor Landen Norris said the company is fully licensed in Colorado as a residential childcare facility.
With that requirement satisfied, the commission next considered the nine criteria, and whether the ranch creates a significant adverse effect on those criteria.
And if so, whether those adverse impacts could be reasonably mitigated through specific conditions, restrictions or requirements.
The criteria are:
• Compatibility with existing uses in the area.
• Physical separation from similar or dissimilar uses on the same property.
• Impact on traffic volume and safety.
• Impact on utilities and sanitary facilities.
• Impact on the established character of the neighborhood or the zone district.
• Conformance with the property development standards of the district.
• Production of any offensive noise, vibration, smoke, dust, odors, heat, glare or unsightly aspects at or beyond the property line.
• Interference with airport approach zones.
• Scarring of the land and soil, which would leave denuded slopes, soil piles, holes or pits, or ruined areas of natural beauty.
The commissioners worked down the list and asked residents to share examples of how the ranch may impact the criteria.
Beginning with the first criterion, Greystone resident John Watt said he is opposed to the youth ranch.
“I don’t believe they’re compatible with the area at all,” he said. “I have some real serious issues with this.”
Watt said the Browns Park area is pristine and hasn’t changed much in 125 years. The area is used primarily for ranching sheep and cattle, he said.
“These ranchers want you to give them a permit so they can herd human beings because that’s what this comes down to,” Watt said.
Greystone resident Robert Molloy said the area is known for traditional uses, and the youth range doesn’t fit within those traditions.
“This is something that’s being brought into the community,” he said. “This is totally different from anything that’s ever existed there before, or has existed anywhere in Moffat County.”
Norris said the youth ranch is compatible.
“There’s a lot of hunting and camping that goes on in that area, and a big part of our program is camping and detaching those kids’ survival skills,” he said. “It’s a good area to do it in because there are a lot of camping spots.”
Watt added another comment regarding the compatibility issue.
“The other reason they’re not compatible is they bring an additional threat to our community,” he said.
Watt’s wife, Lynda Watt, read from a written statement.
“The fear of living on our own ranch started almost a year ago for me when Monty Sheridan’s home was burglarized by escapees from one of these detention camps,” she said. “The fact they stole loaded firearms is a clear indication of their intent to harm anyone in their way.”
She said her husband was asked by a neighbor to check her house to make sure that no one from the youth ranch was hiding inside.
“At that time, it became very obvious that this Utah-based corporation had brought domestic terrorism to our community,” she said.
Lynda said the ranch threatens her Constitutional rights to safety and happiness.
Regarding the second criterion — physical separation from similar or dissimilar uses — Mathers said a buffer zone between the youth ranch and adjacent properties could mitigate any adverse impacts.
Norris said the ranch could accommodate a three-mile buffer zone.
Regarding traffic volume and safety, many residents felt the county roads have been impacted by the presence of the youth camp. Residents cited deep ruts and dust as adverse impacts.
Mathers said a $200 surcharge per youth could help the county maintain the roads and thus mitigate the impact.
Regarding the ranch’s impact on utilities and sanitary facilities, Norris said the impact was nominal.
Mathers said sanitary issues involving camping are governed by the state, and the ranch’s trenches and pit toilets are in compliance with state laws.
Regarding impact to the established character of the area, several residents expressed concern that the ranch’s presence has sparked such fierce debate that the community has been impacted.
“Ever since these people came to our community, it has put division within our community,” Watt said. “We have lost that harmony.
“Neighbors have turned on neighbors.”
Greystone resident Dawn Nottingham said her 86-year-old mother decided to lease land to the youth ranch in an effort to preserve a way of life.
“We’re trying to hang on to our custom and culture,” she said. “She gets $500 a month, that’s all she gets out of retirement.”
The money from the youth ranch helps, she said.
“It doesn’t run our ranch. It doesn’t even pay our … gas bill,” she said. “But, we still are trying to hang on to our custom and culture.”
Mathers said affirming or denying the conditional use permit, at this point, would not restore harmony.
Watt asked why residents of Browns Park should be burdened with children whose parents neglected them.
“Because I live there, and I don’t want the threat against my wife, myself or my property,” Watt said.
“What about the kids?” Nottingham said.
“To hell with the kids,” Watt said.
Commissioner Tom Gray said he appreciated residents’ concerns, but ultimately the commission is bound by law.
“Legally, we aren’t able to just say no,” he said. “Many of you just don’t want it. We don’t have that luxury.”
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