City, county agreement on transitional standards will benefit the whole region

The city of Durango and La Plata County, while separate entities, have a reciprocal stake in how the other operates. With overlapping and often changing jurisdictions that result from annexation and growth in general, the city and county share an interest in ensuring that development takes place in a consistent and productive manner that will best contribute to the quality of life and bottom lines of the community in general. The boundary lines, in that effort, are irrelevant.

It is therefore an excellent use of city and county staff and elected officials’ time to craft a series of rules that articulate building standards in areas where that jurisdiction is in flux – now or in the future. These transitional rules are designed to guide development just outside the city limits – specifically, for now, in the Grandview area and parts of La Posta Road near town, though that could expand – where annexation could occur. There is significant incentive for the county to adhere to these rules, and as such, the city seems to have the upper hand in the negotiations. The residents of both jurisdictions win, though.

In exchange for providing needed water to proposed development projects, the city has been able to up the ante when it comes to building standards in these areas just outside city limits. Setbacks, lighting and site design are among the priorities the city has identified in establishing consistency in development, and the county is compelled to require that of those seeking to build in these closely outlying areas. The alternative, at its worst, is no development at all for lack of water. Less dramatic, but still not ideal, is fragmented development that fails to embody a comprehensive look, feel and set of standards that help shape the community’s visual character. In planning for its growth through annexation, the city is compelled to ensure that future additions do not run at cross-purposes to that vision.

Intergovernmental agreements are important exercises in communication, compromise and identifying shared visions and values. The best of these arrangements require all parties to have a clear sense of their own positions and interests in order to protect them in the agreements. The city appears to be clear in its platform; the county less so, at least in the larger sense. The exercise could, however, serve as a reminder to the county of the utility of looking at growth from a broader perspective. Doing so, as the city is showing, gives planners and decisionmakers an opportunity to provide some semblance of certainty of what the future could hold – information that is important to developers specifically and residents in general.

The transitional standards that the city and county are working on are an excellent starting point. All the better if they spur a larger, more comprehensive conversation.