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Shakeups won’t delay district plans, La Plata County officials say

Planning department hopes to have 12 district plans updated by September
Recent moves at the La Plata County Planning Department and on the Planning Commission will not affect district plan updates, county officials say.

Despite recent shakeups in staffing at the La Plata County Planning Department, district plans are expected to be completed as scheduled, county officials say.

In recent weeks, a La Plata County planner has quit and two members of the La Plata County Planning Commission have resigned. The county is also looking to replace top planner Jason Meininger, who resigned earlier this month.

“We’re doing everything in our power to stay on schedule,” said La Plata County Planning Commission Chairman Jim Tencza. “We know it’s going to be a struggle, but we’re not throwing in the towel yet.”

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.

County officials hoped to have all 12 district plans completed by September. As of mid-March, all but five district plans were done, Tencza said. But the recent shakeup with planning staff and commissioners is going to add pressure to meeting the deadline.

“Things are not going to be smooth because we’re now short-staffed,” Tencza said.

In an email to The Durango Herald, Robby Overfield, a La Plata County planner, said he is leaving April 5 to pursue new career opportunities, as well as strike a better balance between work and his music career.

“My main focus for the next few weeks will be to work hard and diligently with staff and the public to help advance projects I am currently invested in,” he wrote.

On the eight-person La Plata County Planning Commission, alternate commissioner Elizabeth Philbrick said she is leaving for personal reasons. The Planning Commission is made up of five commissioners and two alternates, all appointed by the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners.

“I have full confidence in the quality of the people on the commission,” she said.

Tom Gorton, vice chair commissioner, said he stepped down to make for a smoother transition at the end of the year. After serving eight years each, Gorton’s and Tencza’s terms are up in January 2020. Gorton said by resigning, there will be only one new commissioner on the board in the new year.

“I just felt it would be better to get one of the alternative commissioners some experience, so there’s not two new commissioners at one time,” he said.

Megan Graham, La Plata County spokeswoman, said the search is still on to find the next planning manager. With Meininger’s exit, the county will combine the planning and building departments and hire a “community development director” to oversee the two.

Then, there will be separate managers in the planning and building departments who answer to the new director.

“The goal being to have those two departments interact a little more, under leadership of one individual,” Graham said.

Overfield’s position will be replaced, Graham said, and the county will waive its 60-day hiring hiatus, implemented to allow the county to re-evaluate positions in a time of a shrinking budget.

“In this case, we feel like it’s important to waive that because there’s so much priority placed on the long-range planning efforts of the county, and having resources and personnel to meet those expectations is critical,” she said.

To also help hit the September target, Tencza said planning commissioners, who are volunteers, will take on more of the responsibilities of staff and get more directly involved in the remaining district plans.

“The Planning Commission is a dedicated group of citizens that will do what it takes to get the job done,” he said.

Graham said county commissioners are trying to appoint new planning commission member as soon as possible.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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