Several individuals have noted that La Plata County's recently adopted 2009 budget identifies the completion of a new "comprehensive community plan" as one of our top priorities.
Our conversations on this topic have quickly led to the question, "So what exactly is a comprehensive community plan, and why do we believe it is so important?"
Here is the answer: Just as the county's strategic plan creates an overall framework for county government's initiatives and operation in the future, so too a comprehensive community plan creates a framework within which development and land use can occur in a way that respects and preserves the character and quality of our community. It should be based on the core strategies identified in the county's strategic plan, and should serve as the foundation on which all land use policy decisions are made.
Given this tall task, it must be prepared in full partnership with county residents, because the comprehensive community plan must identify the community's vision on many key issues such as transportation, land use, future growth, water, economic development, historic preservation, parks, open space and trails. The importance of creating a clear vision through the development of a comprehensive community plan cannot be overstated: It will help ensure responsible use of tax dollars, focus our investments in infrastructure, and identify where we want to grow - and what we want to preserve.
Why is updating the comprehensive community plan a priority now? The existing comprehensive plan is almost a decade old and was initiated almost 15 years ago. A great deal has changed in La Plata County during that time. Demographic makeup, community attitudes toward affordable housing, growth, land use, the environment and infrastructure needs have all changed dramatically. Perhaps more importantly, the Board of County Commissioners also now has adopted its strategic plan, the La Plata County Compass, which identifies a number of core strategies and objectives that represent significant departures from the past. These include the concepts of:•Intentional land-use planning - Having some certainty about what type of land use will develop in what area.
•Supporting agricultural interests - Preserving and enhancing agricultural land use where possible.
•Mixed-use development hubs: incentivizing greater density development closer to urban centers;•Economic vitality - Making the land-use system more predictable and easier to navigate so businesses feel comfortable locating and/or expanding in La Plata County.
•Symbiosis with local municipalities, neighborhood communities and sovereign nations: - Linking our land use planning concepts to those of our local tribal nation and municipalities.
These new considerations clearly signal that it's time for a realignment of our comprehensive community plan with the county's strategic plan. So what's the process?
In the coming year, a team led by the county's planning department will be holding a series of public meetings on specific key subjects to develop the guiding principles and, ultimately, the core strategies that will form the basis of the updated plan.
Once drafted, these will be distributed, and public involvement and comment again will be solicited.
Finally, once this input has been received, a draft plan will be distributed for public input and comment. Ultimately, the draft comprehensive community plan will be presented to the county's Planning Commission for comment, and to the county commissioners for final adoption.
Understanding the relationship of the plan to the county's Land Use Code is critical: The process of intentional and sustainable development begins not with the adoption of a land-use code, but rather with the development of the comprehensive community plan.
A land-use code is, quite simply, the instrument that implements the vision articulated in the comprehensive community plan. It is the procedure that lays out the rules for community development within the parameters of the comprehensive community plan.
Since even the so-called "new" land-use code was based on underlying concepts and strategies that are more than a decade old, it is imperative that the county update the comprehensive community plan - regardless of whether we ultimately decide to implement the "new" code, stay with the existing code or do something in between.
Finally, the current "pause" in development that has accompanied the slowing of the national and regional economies also makes this an optimal time to update our plan. By doing so now, La Plata County will be better positioned to address growth and development issues when broader-scale development resumes as the economic conditions improve.
We, as the La Plata County Board of Commissioners, are eager to engage the community in taking a fresh look at our comprehensive community plan, consistent with the intentional and sustainable development concepts of the La Plata County Compass, to preserve the natural beauty of our county and to grow in a reasonable and responsible way.
We acknowledge that previous plan development processes have not been as successful as we would like, and look forward to changing that as we address the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead.
The La Plata County commissioners are Kellie Hotter, chair, Wally White, vice chair, and Joelle Riddle, commissioner.