County hosts construction season kickoff meeting

Reviews new fire codes, licensing 

By Katherine Nettles

The Gunnison County Community and Economic Development department hosted a construction kickoff meeting last week to review the new wildland urban interface fire code and other topics on the minds of those in Gunnison Valley’s building industry. County staff reviewed various aspects of building inspection procedures, the new contractor licensing process, site plan regulations, flood plain regulations and other updates to the county land use resolution (LUR).

About 70 attendees filled the planning commission room, the hallway beyond in the Blackstock building in Gunnison, or connected online via Zoom for the meeting on April 25. Staff first outlined the more straightforward changes, such as the new contractor licensing process required as of February 2023. 

Gunnison County commissioner Jonathan Houck then addressed the policy decision surrounding the biggest issue for many contractors at the moment, which is a major change to the LUR since the county incorporated the 2021 International Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) code last fall to address increasing urban wildland interface in the valley. Those changes took effect in 2023 and this will be the first construction season using the WUI code.

Houck explained the reasoning of both the planning commission and the county commissioners in deciding to adopt the WUI code and acknowledged that it has been hard on both contractors and county staff as they all navigate the changes. The WUI code requires higher standards of ignition-resistant materials, landscape designs with less vegetation density and varied compliance requirements based on exact location within the valley. 

“We looked at what was available to us as a tool to be nimble and get out in front to do something that reflects us,” he said, because a state-wide code is expected in the next few years that will likely apply stricter regulations and fewer compliance options to those who have not adopted their own WUI codes.

The WUI code applies to all new homes or major remodels requiring a permit to varying degrees, depending on their elevation and wildland interface. That universal application has caught many off guard who were aware of the WUI code being adopted but didn’t understand that it applied to their projects. Contractors and suppliers have reported a steep learning curve, higher material costs and confusion from all sides over how the new code impacts their projects. 

“This one’s a tough one,” said Houck. “But it’s one where we feel, with all the information we had and all the opportunities to make the most informed decision, we made the best one we could for the people and employees involved.”

Staff from the community and economic development department and Gunnison County Public Works addressed the group and spent the bulk of the meeting presenting the details of the WUI code and taking questions from attendees to sort out various issues and approaches. 

Attendees seemed content with the information and the Q&A session, and staff assured everyone they can contact the department for any other questions as well. 

More information on the county’s contractor licensing, rules and regulations and the WUI code can be found at https://gunnisoncounty.org/144/Community-and-Economic-Development.

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