After more than $700,000 spent on consultant fees and staff costs, 150 community meetings and two years of work, the county’s proposed comprehensive plan officially died Thursday with a unanimous decision from La Plata County’s volunteer Planning Commission.
“We have no choice but to start this process over,” said Planning Commissioner Steve Kallaher.
The move to terminate the long-running planning process came after twice coming to a political stalemate in recent months. The proposed plan and the process leading up to it grew so controversial that even the county’s elected officials last week declared the situation irreparable and recommended planning commissioners discontinue their efforts to approve a plan.
The county will move forward to develop land-use regulations without the new 20-year visionary document guiding the process, county commissioners said.
Planning commissioners issued their decision after nearly three hours of public testimony from a packed meeting room Thursday night.
The speakers’ comments and ideologies ranged widely, though more people indicated support for the originally proposed plan than opposition when a speaker requested an impromptu showing of hands.
Many speakers, such as Durango resident Ellen Stein, pleaded with planning commissioners to return to the original comprehensive plan proposal unveiled in April.
They argued there was diversity and compromise in the process leading up to the draft. And speakers said dumping or drastically changing the plan would amount to a gross waste of the community’s time and money.
Stein called it a “breech of the public trust.”
Others spoke in support of eliminating the plan and applauded planning commissioners’ recent oppositional resolve. The speakers said they felt their voices were ignored during the document’s drafting process and accused county planning officials of directing public engagement during community meetings.
One county resident said he felt like a “herded sheep” during meetings.
Meanwhile, other residents, including 22-year-old La Plata County intern Aaron Kostyk, focused less on the process and more on the outcome. They expressed dismay at the general political deadlock ultimately arrived at. And they implored the community and planning commissioners to somehow find compromise and a way forward through the cloud of controversy to an adopted plan.
Kostyk looked around the packed room and told the audience they had his future in their hands.
“By not getting this done, you’re failing our generation, I think,” he said.
One resident even suggested it could be time to consider a ballot referendum to determine “once and for all” what the majority of the county wants, a pitch several subsequent speakers said they supported.
Planning Commission Chairman Travis Craig said he hoped the volunteer board would have the opportunity to again tackle the task of adopting a new comprehensive plan.
“I know that we can move forward,” Craig said, adding that he now believes the process was done backward.
Meanwhile, the proposed plan they had been considering “fell short” as a foundation for guiding development in the county and drafting a new set of land-use regulations, he said.
The document “had some good things” in its chapters, Craig said, but it didn’t address “the core issues of land-use planning.”
Planning commissioners Michelina Ceglia and Wayne Buck said, for them, the document failed to foresee the fiscal impacts of its suggestions and the potential long-term implications of enactment.
Commissioner Darlene Marcus said the wasted time and money in the process was unfortunate, “but you don’t continue to build a bridge just because it cost a million dollars when you find out there are design flaws.”