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Durango’s proposed land code gets airing

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

Proposed standards for a new land-use development code might seem well and good, but critics worry without a strong enforcement component, the standards will be meaningless, especially for accessory dwelling units, or alley cottages.

“Why would I bother to get a permit if I don’t have to?” wondered Dave McHenry, who worries about the proliferation of substandard accessory dwellings.

The City Council is on course to approve a new land code in early April before the next councilors are sworn in. The council is scheduled to hear an overview of the proposed code tonight that’s been three years in the making.

On Monday night, consultant Todd Messenger and the city’s planning staff gave a presentation so the public would have more time to comment.

Vicki Vandegrift, a city planner, agreed with the need to address existing and illegal accessory dwellings, or those built out of compliance with city code.

Once the new code is adopted in April, there will be a three-month delay before enactment to give the city time to figure out implementation and enforcement actions.

One enforcement action that won’t be considered will be criminal penalties.

Currently, violations of the city’s land code can be enforced with up to 90 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine, although Greg Hoch, the city’s chief planner, does not think anyone has ever been put in jail over a code violation.

Code violations are normally enforced through civil actions such as fines and injunctions, which is how the new code proposes to deal with violators.

Taking out the criminal penalties will take away the scenario of someone getting asked “What are you in (jail) for?” and then responding, “Designing a prison,” Messenger said in jest.

The consultant has been writing the city’s new code, drafts of which are available at durangocodeupdate.com, although Messenger acknowledged he missed a deadline on Friday for posting new material.

The new code, which will be about 400 pages, is supposed to be more consistent, better-organized and more proscriptive so people can easily determine for themselves what can be built or not. Because it will be split into sections, no one will have to read the whole document unless they are planning another “Three Springs, which is complex,” Messenger said.

Messenger was getting questions on the finer details such as when a tree can be cut down on private property.

As a basic assurance, he told the audience, “Trust me when I tell you this will be a great code,” with the caveat that all codes are amended over time.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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