Planning Commission Removed But Not Resigned, Part One
Glenn Walsh | 1/26/09
The Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners and Planning Commission met in a joint session Thursday evening.  There has been much discussion about the future of the County Planning Commission amongst the BoCC and the Pagosa Springs Town Council recently — but, curiously perhaps, no discussion about these discussions with the Planning Commissioners themselves.

The handwriting was on the wall, and the Commissioners are not an illiterate group.

Planning Commissioner Lesli Allison stated her concern clearly.  "Let's clear the slate, put everything on the table, find out if the composition of this commission is suitable for you.  Let's make sure we are working together with efficiency and cooperation."

BoCC Chair Bob Moomaw responded with equal clarity and a somewhat mixed message.  “We are going to ask for everybody’s resignation.  Having said that, we are asking those of you who want to continue on the Planning Commission to apply.”

An hour long discussion followed about the future composition and the past actions of the County Planning Commission.  It was perhaps the most serious, frank and well mannered discussion I have witnessed in the Courthouse or Town Hall in more than two years. 
Moomaw explained a few influences on the BoCC decision.  He suggested that the present makeup of the board did not adhere to "American Planning Association guidelines on who should sit on a Planning Commission," adding,  "I was not really very familiar with this." 

Moomaw did not note who had familiarized him with these guidelines or who had suggested the present Planning Commission's failure to meet these guidelines.  A quick glance around the room revealed no one who has demonstrated a ready familiarity with APA Guidelines — at least, no one who has not publicly and repeatedly extolled this Planning Commission as the finest he has ever worked with.

Moomaw suggested a well-balanced board should have "builders, realtors, a wide variety of different professions, engineers, local citizens and perhaps a member of the BoCC."

The BoCC Chair then revealed the chief reason for the requested resignations.

"We need to reorganize so we can work much more closely with the Town."  Moomaw summarized recent discussion with the Town about joint building and planning departments.   Moomaw stated the aim was a "friendly" planning and approval process, which he characterized as “one-stop shopping for a developer, or a citizen trying to build a garage.”

A great deal of attention has been given to setting up this "one-stop shop" recently, but little attention has been paid to the sticker shock shoppers will encounter at that one stop.  If you add up PAWSD Dry Gulch fees, Town impact fees, Town sanitation impact fees for commercial developers, and the much anticipated imposition — by Town and County — of a building materials tax, you have one big shop charging one big price for new development.

Moomaw was very complimentary about the work of the Planning Commission over the past year — “I know how hard you have worked and what you have accomplished” — and noted the development of County nuisance laws, oil and gas regulations, and the new Urban Service Area Map as recent accomplishments of the Planning Commission.

Planning Commissioner Ron Chacey asked Moomaw,  "What do you mean by 'user friendly'?"
Moomaw replied, "A developer wants predictability," and explained that the County's Comprehensive Plan, land use regulations and zoning map need to be overhauled.  “It has nothing to do with dissatisfaction with you,” Moomaw reemphasized, and again invited the outgoing Commissioners to apply for the revamped Planning Commission.

The need for more staff and consultants to overhaul the County's planning documents and regulations has been a continual refrain of the Planning Commission for two years.  Moomaw himself cited the inadequacy of these regulations when he suggested a six-month moratorium on new subdivisions and planned unit developments in March 2007.  But that was then, when growth was inevitable.

The Planning Commissioners were clearly dissatisfied with a recitation of their own longstanding complaints as a reason for their dismissal. 

Chacey asked the key question.  "Is a regional planning commission still on the table?"  That regional planning commission would combine the Town and County commissions into one planning commission overseeing one consolidated planning area.

Moomaw and Town Councilor Mark Weiler have been the two most candid advocates for joint Town and County operations, both going so far as to endorse "one consolidated government" to over one hundred assembled businessmen earlier this year at the Community Center.

Moomaw explained the possibilities for cooperation with the Town, with either one or two planning commissions, concluding, "Both are on the table.   Or we could start out with two and then combine them."  Moomaw assured the Commission about the County's motives: "The purpose is to make it more user-friendly, not to do away with the regulations."

Commissioner Cary Brown then added with good humor. "But the regulations need to be modified to make them more user-friendly."

Moomaw responded to Brown's humor with candor.  “The primary focus right now is possibly joining with the Town... We have this no-man’s land that surrounds the Town’s border and, to be quite honest, that is where most of the action occurs."

That "no man's land" is comprised of thousands of acres south of the Town, and thousands of potential new homes, that the Town is presently considering for annexation.  County officials, and Moomaw and Development Director Rick Bellis in particular, have expressed clear concern with the decision of the Town to annex residential subdivisions without any clear plan to finance services for a 600 percent expansion of Town population.

In fact, it is the Town which has been "doing away" with their own expensively created set of land use and zoning regulations.   "Most of the action" in the no-man's land recently has been the Town decision to vest developers with the right do nothing for decades.

Is the County trying to rescue the Town's planning department and commission by transferring and dismissing its own?

Read Part Two...

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