The Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday gave initial approval to an address ordinance aimed at improving response times for emergency personnel.
To assuage homeowners worried that they will have to change their addresses, staff working on the ordinance told the commissioners that they would not actively seek out people needing to change their street number until the county has in place a process to guide those affected.
The ordinance is mainly aimed at street names for new businesses and subdivisions, and current addresses will remain unaffected unless the location is reported to a new committee and deemed to be a public safety hazard, the county board was told.
“There are no plans for staff to go digging around ... unless it’s brought to our attention that it is egregious,” said Ginny Bultman of the county communications department.
A public hearing and final approval of the ordinance, which officials say will codify unofficial rules that have been in place for 21 years, is set for Oct. 24.
Staff in the county’s communications and community development departments drafted the ordinance because they say public safety is being compromised in areas. Streets that are either unnamed or have names duplicated elsewhere in the county have led to confusion for ambulance personnel and other emergency responders, according to a memo about the ordinance.
Community development director Cindy Houben told the commissioners that the new law gives the county authority over whether new street names are proper. The new address committee also could mandate changes to existing street names and numbers.
County Manager Jon Peacock said changing current addresses that are found to be problematic will not be done until staff brings back a plan.
“But we are doing this,” he said.
Bultman said enforcement of the new ordinance will be geared at roads or streets with three or more human dwellings. That is considered the national standard for a typical street, she said.
Bultman downplayed the fear by some homeowners that changing their address with the assessor’s office, mortgage companies and the like will be a headache. Such entities are interested in legal, not street, addresses, she said.
“There will be cost and hassle changing stationary and things like that,” she said, including address etchings on boulders and similar architecture.
Commissioner Rachel Richards said the process should include a change-of-address kit being mailed to homeowners, including an email template that can be sent to mortgage providers, friends and family members, and others who need notification.
Commissioner Michael Owsley read a letter sent to the board by longtime county resident Marcella Larsen, who opposes the ordinance. It says, in part, that homeowners trying to comply with the law will “learn that you can’t actually name your own road, located on private property, but rather that there’s a committee that will decide, based on a number of criteria, whether your proposed name is ‘pleasant sounding.’”
Richards and Commissioner Jack Hatfield took issue with that. Richards said the county has long had rough-and-tumble names dating to the Old West, including Slaughterhouse Bridge and Cemetery Lane.
Richards said affected residents, not the committee, should be the ones choosing their own street names for private properties, provided they meet safety standards and aren’t vulgar.
Bultman said the “pleasant-sounding” requirement has been removed, and Houben said the county is setting up a website allowing people to request the name they want. The hope is that people will be able to change their own street names and that the committee will gather only seldom to ensure name requests meet safety and community standards, Houben said.
Hatfield, too, said he preferred letting residents submit their own street monikers. He said he supported the ordinance — “I think it’s more than timely,” he said — but disagreed with Larsen. When the 911 emergency system was implemented, residents were forced to change their addresses and did so without the current “hullabaloo,” Hatfield said.
The ordinance was passed 4-0, with Commissioner George Newman absent.