La Plata County officials have vowed to continue to move forward with updates to its outdated land-use codes, but they will pivot from their original timeline to take a hard look at the draft set of regulations that many county commissioners, staff and residents feel missed the mark.
“I’ve made it very clear for over a month now my concerns about (the draft land-use codes),” Commissioner Brad Blake said Tuesday. “But I’m happy to move forward, and move forward in a good direction.”
Over the course of two work sessions Tuesday and Wednesday, all three county commissioners agreed: the land-use codes need to be updated.
“The reason why it’s such a high priority for the board is based on things we’ve seen as commissioners as well as seeing the real practical necessity,” Commissioner Julie Westendorff said. “Growth ... hasn’t let up in the last 25, 30 years, and there’s no reason to think it will.”
However, commissioners want time to absorb residents’ objections.
“I’m excited to hear the revision approach,” Blake said.
This past fall, the county’s Planning Department released a draft of proposed updates to its land-use codes, which county officials say have not been seriously overhauled since the 1980s.
Almost immediately, the set of regulations prompted a stiff backlash from some county residents who say the draft codes go far beyond the county’s authority and run the risk of government overreach and infringement on property rights.
Nearly 1,000 residents attended a public meeting Jan. 16 at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, at which the majority of people expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed codes. In addition, more than 400 people submitted written comments.
In response, last week county officials said they will push back the timeline to adopt the codes so that they have time to revise them to better reflect the concerns raised by residents and the desires of the community.
Planning Director Jason Meininger said, for starters, county staff will remove unnecessary language from the draft document and replace it with more understandable terms, which should resolve much of the confusion.
For instance, many residents object to the proposed amount of permits that would be required for a variety of actions they can take on their property. Meininger said this is a semantics issue that can be clarified by modifying the language. For example, in some places the code says, “permitted allowed use,” which means an action is allowed, not one that requires a permit.
Planning staff then plans to clearly articulate and organize sections, as well as identify and correct inconsistencies and redundancies many residents have spotted.
“I think it will help a lot ... just to simplify the codes,” he said.
Meininger also said some of the main issues with the code from the public – limitations on temporary storage containers, river and scenic overlays and requiring permits for large gatherings – will be removed or significantly altered.
“There’s a very clear recognition that the draft land-use code currently has taken some large leaps,” he said. “And we would like to ... move more toward baby steps and at this point just focus on what are the bigger issues.”
But Meininger said county commissioners are the ones who ultimately have to approve altering the policies set in the code. Commissioners have asked for more information to help guide their decision-making.
To help, planning staff members will research codes used by Colorado counties that have similar qualities to La Plata County. Those code examples could help develop specific provisions. The counties identified include Elbert, Gunnison, Larimer, Mesa, Montrose and Weld, as well as Chaffee County because its codes have provisions on agricultural use.
“No one county is the poster child,” Meininger said. “But they all have attributes and strengths in different areas.”
County staff members will present recommendations based on all these factors at a meeting still to be scheduled. Then, county commissioners will make the final decision about which way the process goes.