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Growing outside city limits

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

The lack of city water services to areas just outside Durango’s city limits is one of many issues the city of Durango and La Plata County hope to address in their new planning work. StoneAge Waterblast Tools, near the Animas Air Park, depends on deliveries of several thousands of gallons of water each week to fill its cisterns.

By Emery Cowan Herald staff writer

StoneAge Waterblast Tools is one of Durango’s shining stars. The 65-employee company exports across the globe and is exactly the type of business local economic-development advocates say La Plata County needs.

Yet despite its success, the company, located just five minutes outside Durango near Animas Air Park, remains without water service.

The company pays to haul in 2,000 to 12,000 gallons of water a week to cover product testing, domestic uses and fire-code requirements.

It costs the company $30,000 each year, said Jerry Zink, vice president of the company.

StoneAge’s situation is a perfect example of what the city and the county could have avoided or mitigated if the entities would have undertaken the joint planning work they are just now delving into, people in local government and business said.

“Had the governments been more proactive in planning and annexing some of these areas, StoneAge might not be in the challenged situation it is in, in regards to water,” La Plata County Commissioner Bobby Lieb said.

For this reason and many others, the county and the city have taken on what is expected to become a more than two-year process to redesign the way development happens in the areas immediately outside city limits.

It’s no easy task, as the planning work includes creating new development standards, land-use designations and jurisdictional boundaries, as well as a revamped intergovernmental agreement to encompass it all.

The final products will affect many of the areas adjacent to the city including places like Ewing Mesa east of Colorado Highway 3, Grandview and La Posta, next to the Animas Air Park.

While complicated, it’s a process both city and county see as necessary to clarify the direction for future development just outside the city, as well as the steps to get there.

The work is important “so we can have a rational transition from city into the county,” Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc said. “It’s always good for city and county to cooperate when it comes to long-term planning.”

The details

The governments’ work zeroes in on a zone around the city dubbed the cooperative planning area.

An intergovernmental agreement governs city and county relations in that area, which generally extends between zero and 1˝ miles beyond city limits.

The Joint Planning Commission, with members from the city and the county, hears most of the major projects within those bounds. Varying development standards are applied based on a property’s distance from city limits.

The city and county cited the need to reform the intergovernmental agreement in a September 2011 retreat, but work languished until June when county commissioners made the bold move of deciding to terminate the existing agreement at the end of this year.

“That’s kind of our velvet hammer, we want (the city) to meet us halfway,” Lieb said.

As it turns out, the county’s move was premature. The timeline to create the new intergovernmental agreement, and development standards and area plans that complement it, began to stretch into October 2013.

All the tasks listed on paper fill a poster the size of a card table.

The county took a step back and has now offered to extend the current intergovernmental agreement until the end of 2013, an offer the city is expected to consider this month.

Balance of power

City and county jurisdiction, goals and priorities overlap, sometimes well and sometimes not so well, in the cooperative planning area.

The two entities cooperate in governing development in this in-between area because both agree the city will one day serve it with water and possibly annex it. In either case, it makes sense that projects comply with city development standards and its comprehensive plan, Commissioner Wally White said.

But the county believes the city has too much say right now, especially on areas where it is almost certain never to serve with water, Lieb said.

“So many conflicts have been with this carrot (of water service) that doesn’t necessarily come to fruition,” he said in an October meeting.

The county wants to reduce the cooperative planning area to exclude properties the city doesn’t realistically expect serve with water or annex in the next decade. Those properties would answer only to the county, Lieb said.

LeBlanc agreed on the need to re-evaluate the current cooperative planning area.

Properties within the redefined (and smaller) cooperative planning area also will have a more defined idea of which standards they need to follow. The new agreement aims to include standards more appropriate for projects in denser, urbanizing areas of the county.

These transitional standards will bring development near the city into closer alignment with its urban-development requirements and prime those areas for future annexation or city water service. There will be a clearer process to determine whether a project will have to conform to city, transitional or county standards.

Development in the county

Parallel to their intergovernmental agreement and transitional standards work, the city and county are collaborating on an area plan for La Posta, near the Animas Air Park. The plan maps out land-use designations and provides guidance for future infrastructure development.

The fundamental idea with area planning and transitional standards is to get ahead of development in order to avoid the kind of haphazard building that has occurred in the Grandview area, Lieb said.

“If you get out in front of inevitable growth, if you plan for it properly, the extension and facilitation of infrastructure becomes a lot less expensive and a lot easier when you have to build it,” he said.

The La Posta project also has a distinct economic bent because it creates the kind of predictability that allows business to locate and grow there, LeBlanc said.

The current system is “very cumbersome and very political,” said Ken Willyard, a homeowner east of Three Springs.

He has been through a “tremendous amount of paperwork and meetings” to try to switch his property from residential to commercial use within the framework of the current intergovernmental agreement.

“It makes no sense,” he said of the process.

He, and many others, hope the city and county can come up with a better solution.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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