To its great credit, La Plata County is taking a proactive and thorough approach to determining how it will grow and change in the years to come. That effort has come in the form of a multilayered process that aims to produce a land-use code, a comprehensive plan and a strategic plan that guides the county's future. All three plans have been long in the making, and with only the strategic plan complete, having a land-use code developed before a comprehensive plan is clunky at best. To remedy that - and ensure a more meaningful and workable set of final products - the county commissioners voted this week to scrap the land-use code and begin anew. It was a smart decision.
Under the county's strategic plan, known as the La Plata County Compass, commissioners adopted a series of guiding principles designed to influence future decisions - including, but not limited to growth. These are general objectives that provide the building blocks for the more detailed objectives encompassed in the comprehensive community plan that is currently being crafted. The current version of that document was completed, but never formally adopted, 10 years ago - after a process that began five years before. From that, commissioners and county staff hope, will flow more naturally a land-use code. That makes sense.
Since it was adopted - but not implemented - in late 2007, the land-use code has been a trouble spot for the county. The code, which took more than five years to complete, contained flaws that county staff felt would make the document both unworkable and inconsistent with some of the values articulated in the strategic plan - and likely to appear in the comprehensive plan. The code's adoption was followed by a time of transition among high-level county staff that included changes in the county manager and planning director positions. Since their arrival in the respective positions, Shawn Nau and Erick Aune have reviewed the code and determined that in its current state, the 400-plus-page document would encourage sprawl rather than combat it. That is hardly the direction county residents have determined they would like to go, as the strategic plan indicates.
Accordingly, it makes sense to begin anew the process of crafting the nuts-and-bolts code that will articulate the vision laid out in the strategic plan and further defined in the comprehensive plan that is anticipated to be complete within two years. Aune said the land-use code could come six months after the comprehensive plan's completion. At this point, with all the energy that has gone into the code's creation, an ambitious timeline for revisiting the process is appropriate. There is likely to be some participation fatigue among county residents who invested effort in the most recent process, and that is unfortunate. Nonetheless, if beginning anew will yield a document that more clearly reflects the county's goals, it is a risk worth taking.
Trying to wrap a strategic vision, and comprehensive community plan that it informs, around a land-use code that is fundamentally at odds with that vision is a formula for failure when it comes to county planning. That is hardly the right foundation to build for La Plata County's future. As uncomfortable as it may be, starting the land-use code development process over - with the right priorities in place from the beginning - will provide useable tools for shaping the county in the years to come. That is the right approach.