The relationship between La Plata County and the city of Durango historically has been one of ebbing and flowing tension, wherein the two entities recognized the need to cooperate with one another but have had various struggles in defining what that cooperation ought to look like. The city and county are mutually dependent, reliant and intermingled – after all, the city is wholly within county bounds – but also comprise two distinctly different governing systems as well as cultures. The tension is neither surprising nor unhealthy. But with a new Board of County Commissioners, as well as city councilors committed to forging cooperation despite that tension, the relationship is gaining positive momentum.
This week, the city and county reached consensus on an intergovernmental map designed to clarify rules about growth in the area beyond existing city limits but within its farthest future boundaries. This is a significant step for city and county relations and, more importantly, for providing certainty for those considering development in the so-called “pink zone,” where county development rules apply today, but city requirements for future annexation are important to consider.
The city and county have differing rules about development and finding middle ground in what today is the county but what one day may be within city limits. While the city benefits from tax revenue generated from businesses and residences on land annexed from the county, it also must provide services to those properties and therefore has a vested interest in how they are developed. Establishing clarity for that gray – or pink – area is no easy task, and the city and county reaching consensus on the map defining that area is a milestone that has been elusive in the past. If it acts as a bellwether of the entities’ ability to cooperate in outlining a growth plan, today’s city and county residents will benefit – as will those who arrive in the future.
There has been a vocal recognition of and commitment to the need for improving relations between the city and county, from elected and appointed officials alike. Both entities are in long-term planning processes, with the city updating its Land Use and Development Code and the county ostensibly revisiting its failed attempt at adopting a comprehensive plan. These processes are separate but related and infusing each of them with the wisdom and concerns of the city and county will improve their outcome. The intergovernmental map is an excellent symbol of that spirit of cooperation and will inform the city’s and county’s respective processes.
So, too, will the nature of the relationship between the entities. The stronger it is, the more seamless these growth-planning efforts can be while still reflecting the distinct natures and cultures of the city and county.
La Plata County commissioners Bobby Lieb, Julie Westendorff and Gwen Lachelt deserve recognition for encouraging an improved relationship with the city of Durango, as do the previous and incoming members of City Council. There is much to gain from working through the tension to the city’s and county’s mutual benefit.