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Planning department, commission consider next steps in revision of Community Plan

Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners and planning commission concerns over the handling of the Archuleta County Planning Department’s series of “Road Show” results became a point of contention with planning department staff at a joint meeting of the boards July 8.

The planning department and planning commission sponsored a recent series of community-based work sessions around the county to discuss zoning, land use and other enforcement and development issues pertinent to the county’s communities as work gets underway to update the Community Plan.

Meetings were held in Arboles, Aspen Springs, Pagosa Lakes, Chromo, the County Fairgrounds and the County Courthouse throughout the first half of 2010.

Commissioner John Ranson reported he noticed that each community hosting a Road Show exhibited differences and the desire to not be regarded as the same as Pagosa Springs.

Planning commission chair Kirk England agreed, telling Ranson and the rest of the BoCC that he wanted the planning commission to “dive into” looking at zoning regulations and other options to achieve the diversity desired.

Cindy Shultz, senior planner, noted the department’s intent to formulate plans unique to each identified community that would help define what types of endeavors were to be encouraged in those areas.

England reiterated his willingness to proceed, but posed the question of how to do so with the information gathered at the Road Shows. He then read a letter from absent planning commission vice chair Steve Van Horn.

Van Horn commended the planning department staff and Road Shows, which he noted had fostered “lively, but healthy debate among the participants.”

Van Horn wrote that he understood upcoming stakeholder meetings would include other governmental entities, utility companies, and entities such as San Juan Basin Health, which did not take part in the series of Road Show meetings, but said he was surprised to learn that stakeholders would also include those groups that participated in the early community meetings.

Schultz has previously stated that the “stakeholders” would include those technical entities with a stake in areas such as public health.

The letter also stated that the process would continue until June 2011 as currently outlined, but Van Horn said he believes the process could take only a couple of months to complete.

“Expediency is an important factor in the success of this undertaking and stretching this out for an additional year, in my opinion, will cause frustration among the residents of this County who wait in expectation of a positive outcome based on their input,” Van Horn wrote.

Van Horn also repeated a view voiced by other planning commissioners at past meetings — that, while a low number of applications are coming before the planning commission, an opportunity exists to revise, amend and update the zoning map and county Land Use Code.

Concluding his letter, Van Horn wrote, “I would respectfully ask the BoCC and Planning Staff to reconsider the decision to include those groups who have already spoken in previous meetings, within the Stakeholder’s meetings. It is a duplication of efforts that will result in an unnecessary delay of the final product.”

“I basically agree with Steve’s letter,” said Archuleta County Commissioner Bob Moomaw. “I think we need to move ahead with the (comprehensive) plan while we have the time available to do it.”

Moomaw noted he believes three or four meetings would be adequate before redoing the comprehensive plan and improving the zoning map.

“There are some touchy issues that need to be dealt with. I think it’s a process that can get done within a year and hopefully a year from now the number of applications we have will pick up dramatically” and the processes to deal with them would be established, Moomaw said.

Later in the meeting, absent the BoCC, the topic resurfaced, with England suggesting that interested businesses and governmental agencies be invited to meetings (concerned citizens will be allowed to attend and observe). He also suggested shortening the process in order to have it complete by mid fall.

Another option suggested by England was to have stakeholders from the various communities attend one meeting, but he said June 2011 was too far out to address some issues that surfaced at the Road Shows.

“With all due respect, if we do not give this fair time and, knowing that we have no money and no staff, I think we’re doing ourselves a great disservice and we will end up with a product that’s no better than the product we have sitting on the shelf,” Schultz said.

England again advocated an option to shorten the process and allow those concerned to be involved, saying the resulting product would be good, though not what Schultz perhaps expected.

Schultz explained that, even though the responses from the stakeholders could be gathered quickly, a plan had to be formulated to put the responses to use and that consensus between stakeholder and community groups had to be reached.

“To get any product that’s more meaningful than the product we have now, is going to take time,” Schultz reiterated.

“We need to come up with a plan that’s going to reduce the time frame considerably,” England said.

“Then we’ll do it in-house. We can stop the Road Show meetings,” Schultz said.

England said that stakeholders were needed, but that the process could neither last a long time nor be scrapped, the latter sentiment agreed to by Schultz.

As the discussion continued, Schultz pointed out that previous, similar, less contentious processes to update county plans had also taken time, pointing out later in the meeting that the current Community Plan had required 22 facilitated meetings.

“I think I know I can come up with a pretty solid outline of what I heard from all my neighbors,” England said, adding that he wanted to tackle issues before public anger came into play.

Schultz noted that a number of proposed amendments to the Land Use Regulations had come forward, based on Road Show responses.

In further brainstorming on ways to shorten the process, planning commissioner Ray Lattin posed the idea of picking one community and using it as a test area to evaluate the process and the time needed.

Throughout the discussion, Schultz reminded others of the depth of the project and the lack of staff (Schultz is the only county planner) and money available to work on the project.

County resident Deborah Brown voiced that she believed the process was more complicated than it should be, also calling the idea of stakeholders offensive, noting she thought residents were stakeholders.

In the end, England charged Schultz with thinking of ways to bring in the technical expertise needed, while holding public interest, making it a friendly process, and being reactive to what was heard at the Road Show meetings.

randi@pagosasun.com