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La Plata County planning director resigns amid rewrite of land-use code

Jason Meininger says timing was right to leave post, start new business
La Plata County Planning Director Jason Meininger announced he will resign March 1 amid a contentious land-use codes rewrite process.

La Plata County Planning Director Jason Meininger, who was leading the county’s contentious land-use code revision, has announced he will resign.

When contacted Monday afternoon, Meininger said he has wanted to start his own business for a couple of years, and the timing was right to leave his position at the county to pursue the idea.

Meininger said that after a rocky start to rewriting the county’s land-use code, the process and staff are in a place where he felt comfortable to resign.

“I didn’t want to leave things in disarray,” he said. “But the last several months we’ve built a solid tempo of success, and honestly, I believe that can continue going forward.”

Meininger said it is a premature to talk about the details of his new company. He said he will remain in the Durango area.

“It was really hard to leave such an amazing team,” he said. “But they’re certainly on the path they need to be on.”

He said he informed the county of his planned departure about two weeks ago. La Plata County spokeswoman Megan Graham confirmed Meininger’s resignation will take effect March 1.

Meininger has worked at La Plata County’s planning department since 2008. He was named interim planning director in June 2017 after then-director Damian Peduto took a job in Eagle County. Meininger became permanent director in October 2017.

Meininger was at the center of La Plata County’s attempt to update its land-use code, which has not been overhauled since the 1980s, to take into account rising development pressures.

The process to update the code faced fierce resistance from some county residents.

In fall 2017, the planning department released a draft version of the updated code, created mostly by an outside contractor, Texas-based Kendig Keast Collaborative.

The draft code immediately received backlash. Many residents decried certain regulations as an infringement on their property rights, pointing out limitations on outdoor storage containers and a requirement that residents obtain permits for large parties on their property.

In one of the largest and most heated county meetings in recent memory, hundreds of county residents packed the La Plata County Fairgrounds in January 2018 to lambaste the draft code.

“This is an extreme overreach on property rights,” Mae Morley, a fifth-generation La Plata County rancher said at the meeting. “This is based on controlling the appearance of other people’s private property.”

In the fallout of the release of the draft land-use code, planning department staff seemed to have taken residents’ reaction to heart.

In March 2018, La Plata County fired Kendig Keast Collaborative and vowed to bring the land-use code revision mostly in-house.

La Plata County commissioners promised to slow down the rewrite to allow more public comment and for hyper-local district plans to be finished first.

All that seemed to be on track. The county’s 12 district plans, for example, are set to be complete by September, well before any final land-use code revision would be approved.

Westendorff

“This (Meininger’s resignation) wasn’t something we had planned for, but like anytime you have a change in senior staff, you have to re-evaluate how you’re going to go forward with projects in line,” Commissioner Julie Westendorff said Monday.

Westendorff said revising the land-use code remains one of the county’s top priorities. She said the outdated set of regulations has impeded businesses from moving to and growing in La Plata County, and that results in fewer available jobs.

“That’s not something I’m comfortable with pushing off year after year,” Westendorff said. “I want it fixed.”

Graham said although Meininger was the project lead for revising the land-use code, there are plenty of staff members who have been involved.

“There’s depth on the bench there when it comes to moving the code forward,” Graham said.

The county is working on the process for hiring Meininger’s replacement, Graham said. It is slightly complicated by the fact that the county is actively trying to hire a new county manager to replace Joanne Spina, who retired in December.

According to state law, county commissioners are responsible for hiring county managers and county attorneys. All other positions, including planning directors, are hired by county managers.

“There’s a lot of discussion how best to move forward in filling the vacancy left by (Meininger),” Graham said.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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