The La Plata County Board of County Commissioners grappled with questions of neighborhood covenants, conflict of interest and home-business compatibility when they considered a request to permit a retreat business east of Durango on Tuesday.
Commissioners Wally White and Kellie Hotter approved a home-business permit for Silent Meadows, A Place of Prayer after three hours of public comment and deliberation. Commissioner Bobby Lieb recused himself to avoid a perceived conflict of interest that arose because his father, Bob Lieb, represented the applicant.
Commissioners agreed the retreat center minimally impacts the surrounding neighborhood because the business receives relatively few visitors and makes minimal noise.
Silent Meadows is a spiritual retreat center that holds daylong retreats and provides individual spiritual direction and spiritual exercise.
Homeowners Terrence and Mary Ann Maslak had been operating the retreat center out of their home and adjacent barn, both on La Plata Lane south of U.S. Highway 160, since 2007. The county informed them they need a permit for the operation earlier this year.
The neighbors brought up several commonly cited compatibility concerns including dust creation on the dirt road, property-value degradation and trespassing. Their final argument, however, that the commissioners deny the business permit on the grounds that it violated the subdivision’s covenants, was an issue commissioners don’t usually consider, White said.
“We haven’t dealt with a lot of covenant issues,” he said.
Kenneth Golden, an attorney representing four homeowners who also live on La Plata Lane, said commissioners’ decision to approve the home-business permit would set a precedent that may pave the way for future disregard or violation of neighborhood covenants.
But County Attorney Sheryl Rogers said the county does not judge or make land-use decisions based on compliance with covenants. Covenants and land-use code are “separate and distinct bodies of law” and one does not preclude or supersedes the other, Rogers said.
The board has avoided interfering with neighborhood covenants in past instances as well.
The county commissioners have considered relatively few business permits over the years, and those permits have been especially slow recently, White said. The economy is one likely factor, he said.
A home-business permit does not change the underlying classification of the land to commercial.