Rural area to get Durango water?

La Plata County considers using city water system for Grandview

To discourage sprawl and encourage urban infill, Three Springs Boulevard is supposed to be Durango’s eastern city limit, according to the direction that City Council gave to staff members at a planning retreat two year ago, said City Manager Ron LeBlanc.

As a supplier of water, the city of Durango is under pressure to untap its resources for rural development. Over the next six months, the city and La Plata County will discuss possible conditions and development standards for the city to provide water to unincorporated areas.

At a May 8 meeting, the county and city officials will discuss the feasibility of extending water services for the unincorporated parts of Grandview along the U.S. Highway 160 corridor.

The county government is in uncharted waters because it does not have a water system, although there is another supplier, the La Plata Archuleta Water District based in Ignacio, that can also serve rural areas.

The city has taken the position that it does not like to provide water to purely residential developments because new homes by themselves generally do not produce enough tax revenue to pay for the needed infrastructure improvements. “We need sales tax and jobs to tip the scales,” said LeBlanc in explaining the city’s preference for providing water for projects that include some commercial and industrial aspects.

The city does extend water to developers who pay for the infrastructure costs and agrees to abide by city development standards if located outside the city.

During a joint study session of the city councilors and La Plata County commissioners on Tuesday, City Councilor Paul Broderick argued that the city has taken a narrow-minded position since economic development won’t occur if there is no housing for workers of new or expanding industries.

After the meeting, LeBlanc said it would be cost-prohibitive to expand water lines to far-flung and sparsely populated residential areas.

To accommodate the city, the county is proposing principles for new “water services areas” where residents of new developments would be obliged to pay for the infrastructure improvements with either taxes, impact fees or some sort of financing mechanism. Design and development standards also would be compatible with city codes.

The process is complicated at many levels because there are “so many moving parts,” officials acknowledged. For example, it is difficult to propose “urbanizing standards” or development codes for the new water service areas since the city is in the middle of revising its land-use development code. It likely won’t be finished for another year, said Greg Hoch, the city’s chief planner.

Interim County Manager Joanne Spina urged officials to go forward with the development of “urbanizing development standards” for the proposed water service areas.

“If you continue to wait for things to happen, another two years will pass,” Spina said.” “At some point, you have to start making progress.”

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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