|Read Part One|
At the midpoint of this remarkably frank and serious discussion, BoCC Chair Bob Moomaw stated, “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.” Moomaw explained that changes were needed to accomplish a merger of Town and County planning departments and, possibly, planning commissions.
One can assume that a smaller County Planning Commission, perhaps with only four members plus a County Commissioner, would be easier to combine with the Town Planning Commission, especially if the Town is given veto power over the members of the new County Planning Commission.
That no-man’s land is presently being annexed by the Town of Pagosa Springs. That no-man’s land comprises most of the County’s new Urban Services Area development map, as well. The Urban Services Area map reads like a fault line between the development plates of the Town and County.
The irony at work is this: the County is seeking a closer working relationship with the Town as the Town is adopting development and budgetary practices remarkably similar to those which nearly bankrupted the County in 2007.
The Town Planning Commission and Town Council have set aside nearly every developmental guideline on their books to approve sketchy plans for nearly 4000 new residential units in the no-man’s land, and even sketchier plans for financing a 600 percent increase in the number of Town residences.
The suspension of regulatory oversight and complete lack of financial due diligence about real estate projects which nearly bankrupted Wall Street has been, apparently, adopted as policy by the Town.
And the no-man’s land will, in fact, have few people for the foreseeable future. The Town has vested developers with the right to do nothing for at least a decade.
The reader might contrast this “pro-growth” right to do nothing with the actual growth overseen by the “anti-growth” BoCC and Archuleta County Planning Commission in the decade before 2006, when the Town and local water districts imposed the highest impact fees in the Four Corners: Archuleta County was the third fastest growing County in Colorado, with thousands of people building on the “unbuildable” lots (so labeled by County Development Director Rick Bellis) in Pagosa Lakes.
Planning Commissioner Lesli Allison, with a serious smile, asked for one last “soapbox opportunity.” Allison noted the County Planning Commission had attempted to form a joint planning area with the Town in 2007.
At that time, the Town and County could not jointly plan for one parcel on Hot Springs Boulevard, even as the County was on the precipice of a financial freefall.
Allison warned, “A joint planning commission will be very Town-centric. ... The interests of the County which you represent will take a back burner.”
Allison, the manager of the largest ranch in Archuleta County, reminded the BoCC of the need to protect the County’s ranching economy, which is intimately connected with the health of the hunting and fishing economy and millions of dollars in conservation grants.
She noted the appeal of Archuleta’s natural beauty to tourists and asked the BoCC directly — “Do you want to approve a subdivision out in Upper Blanco Basin. Do the math.”
Allison also defended the Planning Commission against charges it was “anti-growth,” warning the BoCC to “consider where you are hearing these things from.” She pantomimed criticism of the commission — “The Planning Commission is too anti-growth. The Planning Commission is too pro-growth. The Planning Commission moves too quickly. The Planning Commission moves too slowly.” Allison concluded, “When I hear that, I think maybe we are doing our job.”
Planning Commissioner Cary Brown, who operates a smaller ranch directly south of Town, cautioned balance about exclusive focus on the Town and its “no-man’s land” — “People do not come to this Town because of the ambiance of Put Hill. They come because of what the County has that surrounds this Town.”
Brown was friendly but very direct with his chief concern — “I caution you not to bring a bunch of parrots in here.”
Planning Commissioner Judith Reilly noted Pagosa SUN editor Karl Isberg’s most recent editorial, which highlighted the County’s new oil and gas regulations, urban services area and nuisance ordinance as positive local achievements. Reilly added with a chuckle, “Last time I checked, all three of those were developed and passed by this committee.”
Both incoming Commissioners listened respectfully and complimented the Planning Commissioners for the work they had devoted over the past year. The entire discussion was marked by a first-class professional temperament little in evidence for a long time at the County Courthouse.
Clifford Lucero stated, “The time you have put in is unbelievable. ....That’s a lot of work and a lot of time away from your family. I really appreciate that.” Lucero urged the commissioners to reapply.
John Ranson extended a personal reassurance. “This is not political. It is important for me to communicate this to you. This is not a fun decision. I was on the financial task force and I did not spend anywhere near the time that you have spent. ... This all surfaced right away and is difficult to deal with. ... We have an opportunity for a new start.”
Allison assured the BoCC that she would be returning, whether on the new Planning Commission or not — “If I did not feel that I would be a good match for the new commission I will certainly be very active as a community member for that part of the County. We have actually seen a case recently where the County received some rough treatment and was neglected.”
Allison was referencing a remarkably inept and somewhat disingenuous handling of a gas storage application by the County Planning Department which has recently established a propane gas distribution center at the entrance to the scenic Navajo River valley.
Moomaw then closed the session as he had opened it, with a direct, friendly mixed message — “I want to thank you and I look forward to working with some of you on the new commission."