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County master plan rewrite begins

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Photo by Hank Lohmeyer Gabe Preston, owner of RPI Consultants of Durango, gave a presentation on the Delta County Master Plan rewrite process to commissioners, planning officials and others at a work session on Monday.

What is planned as a year-long process of rewriting the Delta County master plan is set to begin following a presentation to planning officials and county commissioners Monday.

Gabe Preston, owner of planning group RPI Consultants of Durango, outlined his plans for conducting the rewrite during Monday's planning commission work session. Also present were county advisory planning committee (APC) members, county staff and a few interested citizens -- about 35 people in all. Preston said he would begin the following day working to gather background information on the county.

County officials have promised the rewrite process (also termed as an "update") will be a grassroots effort. Preston said his firm would "reach out to the community and get everyone's voice" as part of the new master plan.

Preston said that available means of communication would be used to keep the public informed on the process and to get input: newspaper, email, word of mouth, community meetings, fliers, the county website and any others available. Direct mail and telephone surveys are considered cost prohibitive for use in the county's master plan rewrite process, Preston said.

No schedule of the public meetings was yet available at Monday's session.

As described at Monday's presentation, the rewrite process will involve three elements. The first is called "vision and goals." This is to include the public participation phase of the rewrite process. It is scheduled to begin and to be completed over the first two quarters (first six month) of this year, according to a project timeline.

The public participation phase is to include community meetings, workshops, informal surveys and face-to-face meetings, Preston explained. He added that a "vision and goals" draft document would be available to the public for review and comment before the process begins work on the second element -- a future land use plan.

Creation of a draft "future land use plan" is the second element in the process Preston described. It is to include much mapping information that will include display of "current development patterns and analysis" of land uses in the unincorporated areas of the county. Projections of future land uses in specific areas are part of this element of the master plan rewrite process.

The third element of the process will be a "land use code road map." The code road map will be a separate report and "not necessarily part of the master plan," Preston said. While the master plan itself is considered an advisory policy document, the codes road map "would implement the master plan." The land use code road map "may include zoning, potentially," Preston said. The RPI staff includes a land use code specialist who is an attorney who works in the field. Delta County's current suite of land use planning codes consists of the subdivision regulations and the specific development regulations.

As explained in Monday's presentation, should a board of county commissioners at any time decide to put the master plan's findings and prescriptions for future land uses into ordinance, the road map would provide a framework for the means of doing so.

Preston said that the master plan rewrite will not be a complete departure from the current master plan: the new process "will look at where the county has been in the past 30 years and lay out a course for the future." The final document will be "more than 50 pages," Preston said in answer to a question. "It is going to have a lot of maps in it."

The master plan rewrite is to incorporate existing plans and studies already in inventory including the Better Cities business study, the community wildfire protection plan, the county's multi-hazard plan, and others. On-site visits to the county and tours conducted by various officials will also be part of the RPI information gathering regimen.

The last county master plan was written in 1996. That plan and its misconstrued role in community life became a legal issue before the Colorado Supreme Court in the Powell Mesa chicken barn lawsuit, an event that provided motivation for the current rewrite process.

The county planning commission and the various APC groups will be the lead agencies of county government in the rewrite process, explained county administrator Robbie LeValley. The current, two-month-long public involvement process comprises Phase 2 of the whole five-phase project which will culminate in official adoption of the plan in the first part of 2018.

The process "is about physical land planning, for the most part," Preston said.

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