IGNACIO – The way to fix the La Plata County land-use code is by first updating the 12 district plans in the county.
That’s the message the organizers of the new La Plata Liberty Coalition gave to about 400 people who attended an information and work session Thursday night at Sky Ute Casino.
“The process was approached backwards,” said Naomi Dobbs, one of the coalition founders. “It’s little wonder the land-use code is not reflective of La Plata County.”
Organizers did say a new code is needed, but it needs to represent the views and desires of residents.
“The code needs to be worked on,” said Christi Zeller, the executive director of the La Plata County Energy Council. “It is not a user-friendly code.”
Zeller provided a short history lesson of planning efforts in the county, dating back to the first master plan adopted in 1984.
“I have been involved with various La Plata County code revisions,” she said, including 22 revisions to the county’s oil and gas code.
Sustainability and growth became concerns for more county residents in the late 1990s. Part of the problem is that the county has a lot of players on its 1 million-plus acres.
Public and state lands account for 446,000 acres in the county, and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe encompasses another 200,000. That leaves about 422,000 acres, mostly in the southern part of the county.
That water rights and irrigation rights weren’t included in the first draft of the code, released in November, was an incredible oversight, Zeller said.
“Now is the time to update the district plans,” she said.
That way, county residents can address public health and safety concerns, aesthetics, water use, view corridors, river corridors and other issues, she said.
Amber Pedrigo, another founder of the coalition, said some of the blame for the current situation belongs to members of the rural county community.
“I only recently got involved,” she said. “Shame on me.”
Kayla Patterson, a previous candidate for county commissioner, told her about the land-use code and said more people needed to be involved.
“It’s on our heads, to some extent,” Dobbs said, noting that only a few people attend county commission and county planning commission meetings, and they’re often real estate agents and developers.
“I haven’t been to a La Plata County Planning Commission meeting in 10 years,” she said. “I haven’t always voted. I haven’t attended every opportunity I had. If you think your neighbor will take care of it, think again. We have to stay involved. If we don’t, you can kiss your property rights goodbye.”
After the presentation, attendees were asked to break into working groups based on where they live in the county’s 12 districts.
Dave Peters, another member of the coalition, discussed the group’s effort to recall County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt.
Organizers need to collect more than 7,500 signatures of registered voters in the county, and ideally, they will get more than 9,000 to make sure enough addresses and signatures are valid. They are four days into the 60 days allowed to gather the signatures, he said.
“We need more circulators,” he said.
The group has a website, www.savelaplatacounty.com, and a Facebook page, La Plata Liberty Coalition.
The website said the group’s mission statement is: “A coalition of ‘We The People’ Working to Protect and Preserve the Historical and Constitutional Rights of the Citizens of La Plata County.”
Organizers can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.