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Completion date for district land-use plans pushed back to November

County attorney says legal review may mean some material is removed
District plans won’t be completed by September as county officials previously thought. November is now the expected completion date.

The completion of La Plata County’s district plans will be a bit delayed.

County officials said Thursday the district plans are expected to be completed and adopted in November, about two months later than the target date of September.

For the past year, La Plata County has been working to update the county’s 12 district plans, guiding documents that allow smaller communities within the county to establish visions for how and where they would like to see growth in their neighborhoods.

La Plata County Attorney Sheryl Rogers said Thursday night at the Planning Commission’s meeting that she has started to review three district plans – for the North County, Junction Creek and Fort Lewis Mesa.

In doing so, Rogers said she has noticed material that steps outside the intent and scope of what a district plan allows.

For instance, district plans are an advisory document. As a result, they can’t include language that is regulatory in nature, she said. And, content within district plans can’t conflict with state law.

As Rogers has been reviewing the proposed district plans, she’s been flagging material that may pose legal conflicts. She cautioned that when she is finished with her legal review, some content residents contributed to the plans may be taken out.

“I know until folks see it, it’s going to be a significant concern,” she said. “But my job is to advise you what complies with statute.”

Planning Commissioner Charlie Minkler took issue that a lot of the criteria had not been fully explained to residents before they began drafting their neighborhood’s district plan. Nearly 40 people attended Thursday night’s meeting.

“It’s sad and unfortunate we didn’t have this discussion months ago,” Minkler said. “I think there’s a lot of frustrated people behind you saying, ‘Why are we hearing this now?’ … We’ve been telling people we want input … but now it seems like that’s being all thrown out.”

Rogers said “there’s a great deal” of material that will be included in the district plans. And for the content that has to be taken out, she said that input can be used for other purposes, such as informing the land-use code overhaul.

“We are all products of our point and time,” she said. “We’ve all learned lessons as we’ve gone through this process.”

Planning Commission Chairman Jim Tencza said that from the beginning, the commission has been clear it will make final decisions about adopted district plans after a legal review.

“The fact … not everything will be included in the final district plan we certify shouldn’t be a surprise,” he said. “We’ve talked about it for a long time. Maybe we should have put more emphasis on it.”

Officials did talk about the possibility of allowing neighborhoods to create formal district advisory groups, which would be adopted into county statute and have the opportunity to comment on proposed projects or development. The prospect was met with near unanimous support by those who spoke during public comment.

“I think it’s a great concept,” Misti Witt said.

Terah Kelsey said she supported the concept, but said it’s important groups represent the district they live in.

“I don’t think there should be elimination of any public input of any kind,” she said.

Deb Paulsen worried that groups could be captured by one point of view.

“I think this could be a good thing or a really bad thing,” she said. “It really depends on how it’s set up.”

The Planning Commission will further discuss the idea of district plan groups in September.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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