The Texas firm that many county staff, commissioners and residents said missed the mark in drafting La Plata County’s land-use code has been fired.
La Plata County spokeswoman Megan Graham said Thursday morning that La Plata County staff notified Kendig Keast Collaborative on Wednesday that its contract with the county was terminated, effective immediately.
Representatives with Kendig Keast did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
To date, Graham said La Plata County has paid Kendig Keast $160,099 for its services to write a draft of updated land-use codes.
“The county doesn’t intend to pay (Kendig Keast) any more at this point, but the final consequences of the termination are yet to be determined,” Graham said.
According to payment register documents listed on the county’s website, Kendig Keast has received $222,605 in payments since November 2016. Graham, when asked about this discrepancy late Thursday, said she would look into it on Friday morning.
In early 2016, La Plata County commissioners directed county staff to update the decades-old land-use code after several failed attempts over the years.
With limited resources internally, the county sought an outside contractor to do the work. Kendig Keast was the only company to apply for the job, agreeing on an original contract for $250,000. “We didn’t just hire them based on the fact there were no other suitors,” Graham said in a previous interview. “They met all the criteria, and our selection committee was impressed with their qualifications.”
La Plata County commissioners directed county staff to hire the firm in October 2016.
The Texas firm visited La Plata County on two occasions to hold public meetings with a variety of community groups, including ranchers, real estate agents, developers and local government officials, among others.
Kendig Keast gave county planners a rough draft of the updated codes in late spring 2017. The proposed revisions did not meet the county’s expectations, prompting planning staff to take a more hands-on approach to rewire the draft.
“I think it’s fair to say we feel like Kendig Keast did miss the mark on that first draft,” La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff said in February. “It wasn’t what I was looking for as a first draft.”
Despite the county’s efforts to make the codes more accurately reflect the community’s desires, the proposed changes sparked immediate public backlash when the county released the regulations in fall 2017.
“The draft is like they didn’t even listen to what we had to say,” Peggy Beebe, a rancher who attended Kendig Keast’s meetings, previously said. “We don’t need an iron thumb put on us and tell us exactly what to do.”
Because county staff was becoming more involved in the writing process, the county and Kendig Keast, with its reduced role, renegotiated the contract in December 2017 from $250,000 to $222,840.
There had been speculation in recent weeks that the county would end its relationship with the Texas firm. “The land-use code update project will continue as a staff-led effort,” Graham said in Thursday’s news release.
She said the revision process will produce a draft “significantly different” from the version released in November. The revisions will take into account the significant amount of public comment received over the past few months, she said.
This is not the first time a county has fired Kendig Keast and taken the financial hit for land-use codes that don’t reflect the community. In 2013, Kootenai County in northern Idaho fired the firm after spending $340,000.
“The approach Kendig Keast took was not the right approach for this part of Idaho,” said David Callahan, Kootenai County community development director.
La Plata County Planning Director Jason Meininger said the county can use Kendig Keast’s work as a framework, so the effort is not a complete loss.
The county had hoped to have the new land-use codes formally adopted by fall, but that timeline will likely be extended until more revisions can be made.
At a meeting to be held April 3, county commissioners will start to give the planning department clearer direction about revising the codes.