La Plata County commissioners on Tuesday voted to scrap a more-than-400-page land-use code that was passed more than a year ago but never put into effect.
In a presentation before the vote, Planning Director Erick Aune laid out the argument that flaws in the new code would actually increase sprawl rather than combat it and would add to the red tape applicants have to cut through to get a project approved.
Aune said planning staff had come to believe that the code, which was more than five years in the making, was not "the best path to the community we want to see."
Instead, he said, the county should focus first on a comprehensive plan - a central guiding document that would inform all functions of county government - and from that a land-use code would flow relatively easily.
While commissioners and planning staff expressed optimism about the new path, one member of the public at the special meeting was skeptical.
Jennifer Burbey, chairwoman of the Fort Lewis Mesa Planning District, worried that the county was going to go through the whole expensive, time-consuming effort to the same result.
"We're just going to throw a lot of money at the same thing again," she said.
She said the planning board believed there was room for improvement to the 2007 code but wondered if starting over was the best solution.
"It all comes down to what the product is," she said after the meeting.
She questioned why it took commissioners more than a year to decide what action to take.
County Manager Shawn Nau, at the beginning of the meeting, said the delay was because of major staff changes in the planning department in the last year and because of the time necessary to fully analyze the ramifications of the code.
Currently, the county has no comprehensive plan. One was drafted in the late 1990s but never formally adopted. Aune said in the next couple weeks, the county will select a consultant to draw up a new plan. They have set an "aggressive" timeline of 18 to 24 months for adoption of the plan, he said.
The final land-use code is expected to be complete in another six months after that.
Commissioners, who in August 2007 voted unanimously to approve the new code, agreed that defects that had come to light in the year since the code was passed warranted returning to the drawing table.
"I'm just really grateful we're recognizing now we can do better," Commissioner Joelle Riddle said.
Not all of the 2007 code will be jettisoned, however. Staff members and commissioners agreed sections of it should be saved and implemented until a new code is complete. Staff members will review and make recommendations by March 24 about which sections to retain.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Kellie Hotter, who was dubious of the 2007 code when she voted for it, calling it "too much government," said rescinding the document "doesn't take away from the good works that have been done, because those can be utilized."
Similarly, Nau said the point was "not throw out what we've done before but to build on it."
He said the nationwide recession, which has dampened development in La Plata County, gave the county "a bit of a pause" to devise new regulations before building rebounds.
He said the new code would be simplified and streamlined, which ultimately would save staff and developers time and money.
Commissioner Wally White said he understands some people would be frustrated with the redesign but hopes they will be won over by the results.
"This is really going in the right direction," he said.
Aune said planners have set a goal of obtaining the approval of 75 percent of the public who provides input into the plan.