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La Plata County’s new land-use codes draw mixed reaction

Some residents say codes are welcomed; others say they’re burdensome
An update to La Plata County’s land-use codes, the first of its kind since the 1980s, drew mixed reactions at a public hearing Tuesday.

La Plata County’s long-awaited land-use code update drew mixed reactions from a number of residents Tuesday night at a public hearing at the Durango Public Library.

Recently, the La Plata County Planning Department released the first draft of the first module of the revised codes, which deals specifically with land use. A public comment period on this portion of the updated codes lasts until Jan 12.

La Plata County Planning Director Jason Meininger said the codes, which haven’t been updated since the 1980s, aim to address a growing and changing community while promoting growth in appropriate places and protecting existing use.

“This is a really exciting opportunity for the community to truly start preparing for the future in a really positive way,” Meininger said.

One notable revision in the codes is the introduction of concrete zoning areas, which will promote expanded opportunities for development in the county, Meininger said.

When a developer approaches county staff with questions on the potential use of a particular property, Meininger said uncertainty in current county codes leads to a prolonged and overly complicated process.

With the new land-use codes, he said a developer knows exactly what they are buying and what the land can be used for. That certainty is both a benefit to the developer as well as adjacent property owners, he said.

“The certainty of knowing what you’re allowed to do speeds up the process and then lowers the cost,” he said.

Jeff Kane with the law firm Newbold Chapman & Geyer said the county’s current land codes hurt the marketability of property in the region, as ambiguous guidelines cause a timely and expensive process.

“To have it be more predictable would be a good thing,” Kane said. “The goal is predictability, but the risk is you’re fitting a too-big world in a too-small box. But you have to try and find that balance.”

Some county residents, however, opposed what they called the “over-reaching” nature of the codes, which include regulations on development standards, especially along the U.S. Highway 550 corridor.

For example, the proposed codes require a 500-foot setback from the heavily traveled highway, and require developers to build “earthen tone” structures with roofs that don’t glare, said Larry Zauberis, a rancher in the Animas Valley.

“They’re trying to put too fine a point on things,” Zauberis said. “There’s a thing called property rights in America.”

Sandy Young, also an Animas Valley rancher, said the proposed codes over-complicate land issues in the county.

“Keep it simple,” she said. “We don’t need this huge document that no one understands to dictate what people can do. And I don’t think (the county) needs to solve everyone’s problems. People should talk to their neighbors.

“It almost feels like a gated community,” Young said of the proposed codes.

Meininger said the stipulations on development along the Highway 550 corridor were added to protect the scenic quality of what’s known as “Million Dollar Highway,” which draws thousands of tourists, and businesses, to the region.

Meininger said the county planning department encourages comments in order to fine-tune the draft codes before they are slated to be adopted in September 2018.

The code is available for review at: http://bit.ly/2AILR5l.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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