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El Paso County relaxes land use code to help victims of 117 and Carson Midway fires

May 1, 2018 Updated: May 15, 2018 at 4:26 pm
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Jake Bywater, left, with the help of friend Leonard Lasco, right, knocks down hot spots Wednesday, April 18, 2018, in the remains of his 30-foot by 60-foot pole barn that burned in the 117 Fire. Bywater spent the night and day fighting the fire and putting out hot spots. Bywater saved his home but lost the barn, school bus, four boats and the 100-year-old homestead that he and his wife, Kim, had restored. The fire burned 23 homes and about 41,000 acres. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

El Paso County has suspended some provisions of its land use code to make rebuilding easier for residents who lost structures in the 117 and Carson Midway fires.

The temporary tweaks, approved unanimously by the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, allow residents to live in recreational vehicles while they rebuild their homes and authorize planning staff to waive or reduce development application fees for those affected.

The same code provisions were loosened after the Black Forest fire, which destroyed hundreds of homes in 2013.

The approximately 40,000-acre 117 fire, which sparked April 17, burned 18 homes and more than 20 barns and other buildings in the Hanover area, says a damage assessment by the county assessor.

The Carson Midway fire, which started during a training exercise at Fort Carson in March and grew to more than 3,000 acres, damaged two homes and some outbuildings.

"We want to be here for the community and residents, those that were affected," said commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr., whose district includes both fire locations. "We want to make it as easy as possible for them, and as low cost. So we're going to streamline the process."

The code normally prohibits people from living in RVs on residential parcels, but the adjustments will let them use motor homes and campers for temporary quarters.

The changes also will let residents rebuild "accessory structures," such as guest houses or sheds, before rebuilding their main homes. During the Black Forest fire, county officials learned that some people preferred to store their belongings on their property while they rebuilt their homes, said Craig Dossey, executive director of the Planning and Community Development Department.

The provisions will be lifted until the end of 2018, says the resolution approved Tuesday. The board may change that date at its discretion.

Commissioners Peggy Littleton and Darryl Glenn were absent and excused from the vote.

Fire victims who have septic systems must have them evaluated by a licensed system installer or certified inspector before they get a permit to repair or rebuild their homes, said county Public Health Deputy Director Tom Gonzales.

Once those evaluations are filed online, the agency will determine if a septic repair permit also is needed, Gonzales said.

All permit records are on the assessor's website, he said.

Public Health also advises anyone with a well affected by fire to have their water tested for potability. Testing is available at the agency's laboratory for a fee, Gonzales said.

More information on wells and septic systems is available at elpasocountyhealth.org.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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