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La Plata County drops prospect of moratorium on new development

Business community says proposal to suspend new development poorly timed
La Plata County on Wednesday dropped a proposed moratorium on development applications after backlash from the business community, which called it ill-timed as businesses deal with economic hits caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

La Plata County has dropped a proposed moratorium on all new development applications after public backlash branded it detrimental to the economy, especially during the coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement issued late Wednesday, La Plata County officials say they recognize the “stress and strain” brought on by the pandemic and will develop alternative solutions to transition from the current land-use code to a new code, the draft of which is expected in May.

Westendorff

“We appreciate the community’s and county staff’s investment in this process, and we appreciate everyone’s patience and persistence in helping us achieve this important goal while navigating through a world distorted by the impacts of the coronavirus,” Commissioner Julie Westendorff said in a prepared statement.

Lachelt

Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said a moratorium would have been a normal course of business in any other year while transitioning to a new land-use code.

“However, this is not a normal time with the COVID-19 pandemic and every single person is justifiably and gravely concerned about our economy,” she said. “We do not need to add to anyone’s stress now. We will figure out a way to weather this transition from the old code to the new code.”

La Plata County commissioners were expected to vote May 5 on whether to implement a six-month moratorium on all new development applications, which would have been effective immediately if approved.

County officials said the moratorium would make it easier to transition from the old code to the new, so planning staff would not have to process new developments under two codes. The county has attempted for years to update its land-use code and is expected to complete the process this fall.

The moratorium would have applied only to development applications, not building permits, and included a list of 16 exemptions.

But some in the business community still took issue.

Amanda Erickson, association executive of Durango Area Association of Realtors, said in an email: “In a time when our communities are at their most vulnerable and facing an unprecedented economic decline, we need our county leadership to provide resources, guidance and encouragement to citizens, not create undue burdens and financial uncertainty. This is not a moratorium on property development, it is a moratorium on economic development and would only cause more job loss.”

Christi Zeller, executive director of La Plata Energy Council said the proposal “came as an unpleasant, horrible surprise.”

She added in an email: “Government should do no harm to any of their businesses. The resolution as written has many exemptions but no data as to which specific 60 to 70 current projects are going to be subject to the moratorium. COVID-19 has devastated budgets, income/revenue for individuals, businesses (including the Herald) and the government and we need to work together on solutions.”

Jack Llewellyn, executive director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce, said: “Businesses are trying to survive right now, livelihoods for families are uncertain. Every day, I receive calls from our members that are on the brink of closure.”

He noted when a building is completed, the county receives revenue from the property tax increase, especially improvements to vacant land. “I don’t even understand why we are debating this right now,” he said.

Erickson said both essential and nonessential workforces would suffer.

“Plumbers and electricians, architects and engineers, potential homeowners and new business owners would be part of the cascading negative impact,” she said. “In an already-tight housing market this will most certainly further hurt affordability and push the dream of homeownership further out of reach.”

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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