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City, county close in on development agreement

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

The La Plata County Board of County Commissioners and the Durango City Council reached consensus Tuesday on an intergovernmental map intended to provide certainty and guidance for development just outside the city’s boundaries.

After years of disagreement and finger-pointing, County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt lauded the map as an “example of a new era of city and county cooperation.”

The commissioners had discussed at a March 11 workshop abandoning an intergovernmental agreement on cooperative planning areas just outside the city limits if the City Council and commissioners could not reach agreement on a map.

While the map is viewed as a necessary first step, Commissioner Julie Westendorff recognized that county residents are going to want to know what it means to be “inside the pink,” or the boundaries of the intergovernmental map.

This is the task new County Planner Damian Peduto has ahead of him as the two boards agreed to have public hearings on the proposed map in May or later this spring.

During these hearings, Peduto also will propose new transitional standards that will guide development with the goal of making areas ready for possible annexation by the city.

So to be in the pink could mean “an invitation to the party,” which is how Councilor-elect Dean Brookie put it.

County Attorney Sheryl Rogers said it also will be necessary for the county’s Planning Commission to adopt the city’s comprehensive plan as a guiding document for new development.

Because city residents already are under the jurisdiction of the city, they would not be affected by the map.

“I live on Fifth Avenue,” Mayor Doug Lyon said. “I live in the pink, and I’m liking it.”

But the pink is not a free-for-all. City Manager Ron LeBlanc emphasized that the city still would expect developers and property owners to pay for the extension of water and sewer lines if they want city services. City Planner Greg Hoch said many residents living at higher elevations would like city water, but neither they nor the city can afford the pump to send the water uphill.

The map was devised by Peduto and Hoch by extending cooperative planning boundaries to areas adjacent to the city where there was availability of city utility services.

It goes about a mile north of the Ironhorse Inn on U.S. Highway 550 and about a quarter mile east of Three Springs Boulevard, putting the Palo Verde subdivision, which already has approval for water services, inside the pink IGA boundary but leaving the La Paloma subdivision outside.

It includes many areas already in the city pipeline for possible annexation, such as Ewing Mesa above U.S. Highway 3, which has initial approval for industrial parks and as many as 3,000 dwelling units, and Cameron-Sterk recreation area, which has been renamed the Oxbow Park and Preserve.

To reach consensus, city and county staff sidestepped contentious issues that were not necessary or integral to making the map. Because the map is concerned about laying down guidance for development, it does not always address public lands, such as Lake Nighthorse, a reservoir the city has considered annexing to make available for public recreation.

Peduto also said the map should be viewed as “a living document not etched in stone” that will have to adapt to changing conditions.

After the public hearings later this spring, staff will give the public’s feedback to councilors and county commissioners during a retreat in June. The map and an IGA agreement would come back at regular meetings for formal adoption by the two boards.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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