A day after news hit that La Plata County commissioners would scrap their 2007 land-use plan for fear that it would help increase, rather than decrease, sprawl, county officials and representatives of various regional municipalities and organizations spoke with consultants about how best to move the county forward.
Planning for growth was the topic of the public forum on the Land Use and Transit Study Wednesday night at the Durango Community Recreation Center.
"Maybe we should do something radically different. We could be looking at a sea change here in a couple of months," said La Plata County Planning Director Erick Aune.
Two Portland-based consultants - Carol Landsman, of Landsman Transportation Planning, and John Spencer, of Spencer & Kupper - gave a brief overview of their findings and discussed current growth patterns in La Plata County. Landsman said a new plan should be completed by early June.
Spencer showed a relief map of La Plata County to the audience of about 40, keyed to show recent growth in bright red blotches that spread out from Durango in all directions.
"We can see, just intuitively, that we have created a land-use pattern that is not altogether efficient," he said. "I don't want to use the term "sprawl" here, but there you have it."
Landsman estimated that by 2030, La Plata County's population will jump from 47,936 to more than 80,000.
The presentation included so-called smart growth recommendations to accommodate the anticipated growth. According to Spencer smart growth should include upgrading and repurposing existing structures for projects instead of starting over from scratch. He spoke about better linking arterial roads with smaller, side roads and utilizing consistent zoning strategies.
His complete analysis included habitat studies for local wildlife and natural water drainage systems, both of which he suggested should be included in any long-term plans.
Many attended to voice concerns that widely dispersed, low-density development with wide distances between locations was not the best ways for the county to proceed. The words "responsibly" and "sustainability" were affixed to many proposals.
"What's unique about La Plata County is that you're looking at these issues. Most counties don't look at issues of land use and how to provide it economically," Landsman said.
Recent Durango arrival, by way of Berkeley, Calif., Sara Holt came to the event brimming with ideas and after Landsman offered the group the floor, she suggested that Durango could benefit from a community gardens program and separated road lanes for cyclists. Holt is on the board of the Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado.
"These are the conversations we need to be having," she said after the meeting.