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La Plata County eyes September completion for new land-use code

Next few months to be packed with public outreach, officials say
If all goes according to plan, La Plata County will have a new land-use code by September.

La Plata County has its eye on adopting a new land-use code by the end of September, which if successful, would mark the first serious overhaul of the contentious regulations since the 1980s, a timespan that has included several failed attempts.

The current effort to rewrite the outdated codes started in early 2016 at the direction of La Plata County commissioners. But the effort stalled after a draft set of regulations was released to the public, which sparked immediate backlash from some residents of the county.

For the past two years, the county has slowed down the land-use code process, taking more time to hear from the public. County officials allowed district plans, in which residents set the vision for growth in their neighborhoods, to be completed.

On Thursday, La Plata County commissioners, in a joint session with the Planning Commission, decided it’s time to move forward with the land-use code overhaul once again, eying a completion by September.

Over the next few months, county officials have set an ambitious schedule filled with public-engagement meetings, open houses, joint sessions between boards and the actual writing of the new code.

“Tonight marks a transition, from an active listening phase to starting to put pen to paper,” County Manager Chuck Stevens said.

If the process stays on track, the new codes would be implemented sometime in late 2020, said Megan Graham, spokeswoman for the county.

County staff and commissioners will be tasked with outreach efforts, county officials said, acting as liaisons to inform the public about the rewrite process.

“This is really an extraordinarily heavy lift for everyone, particularly staff,” said Planning Commissioner Geri Malandra. “It’s a pretty phenomenal, ambitious project we’re all going to be engaged with.”

Neal Starkebaum, the county’s community development director, said his staff will be focused on the land-use code rewrite. As a result, normal daily operations, such as reviewing development proposals, are likely to move more slowly.

“I think there is a realization, and hopefully an understanding and acknowledgment, that this has the potential to impact some of the current planning projects in process, as well as new ones coming into the department,” he said. “It’s going to eat an incredible amount of staff time.”

Stevens said the county intends to reach out to developers to inform them of the possible delays. But when all is said and done, the intent of the code rewrite is to make the process for new development more efficient.

County officials say the No. 1 concern they hear from the public is issues with the land-use code, which creates a costly, time-intensive and unpredictable process for new development.

Starkebaum said the land-use code update will help developers have a more clear idea whether their project will be approved on the front end. One of the main complaints with the current code is that developers must go through a costly process to find out whether a project can be approved.

Starkebaum added the new codes will not include countywide zoning, a hot topic the past few years among residents.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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