Land Use Code revision: Draft Module 1 ready for review!

Land Use Code revision: Draft Module 1 ready for review!
Posted on 11/29/2017

La Plata County Planning Department is pleased to announce the release of the draft first module of the revised Land Use Code for public review and suggestions for improvement! 

Module 1 is the first of three modules that will significantly revise and update the Land Use Code introducing new concepts, new ideas, and a new structure - all with the intent of making the code more easily accessible and predictable for those seeking to develop in La Plata County. 

We are proud to present you with Draft Module 1 of the La Plata County Land Use Code (PDF)!

We are looking forward to hearing your suggestions for improving the code so that it better meets the purposes and objectives defined by the community, the Planning Commission and Board of County Commissioners. 

There are a number of ways to provide your suggestions by January 26, 2018:
1) Comment directly in the code! Using this online tool, you can make suggestions within each section of the code. It's easy! It's handy! Check it out!

2) Email us directly: Please be sure to specify the section and subsection that your suggestion references.

Background

  • La Plata County’s current Land Use Code has been in place since 1987. When it was developed, the code was primarily designed to address small rural subdivisions and did not contemplate commercial or higher density residential development.

  • In most instances, the code calls for evaluating proposed projects with a case-by-case analysis of impacts and compatibility with surrounding properties. That case-by-case analysis can make it difficult for property owners or developers to predict whether their project will be permitted.
     
  • In response to community concerns about the length and expense of the land use permit application process, the county intends to simplify that process and provide certainty to applicants as to what development may be permitted - and where.

  • Therefore, the revised code will offer improved predictability, certainty and an expanded list of land uses that will be available BY RIGHT to property owners.

  • The land use code seeks to balance the divergent values and priorities of our diverse community.

  • The code is in DRAFT form now: We want to hear your ideas for improving it so that we can be sure we capture the community’s ideas and concerns.

What we've heard & what we're doing (Click to download PDF)

Since releasing the code for public input in late November, we have heard a number of consistent themes and questions regarding specific provisions in the draft code. These include:

  • Retroactive applicability: The new land use code will not affect what you are already doing on your property. It is meant to guide development going forward and will NOT disallow current uses unless those uses are already in violation and remain in violation once the new land use code is adopted.

  • What it covers: The revised Land Use Code covers development in the unincorporated areas of La Plata County. Unless a use is specifically prohibited by the code, it is allowed, either by right or subject to a land use permit.  It is important to note, however, that other federal, state and local laws may apply.   

  • Hunting, Fishing & Shooting: Nothing in the proposed Land Use Code restricts legal hunting, fishing, or discharge of firearms in La Plata County.  
    • The table in Section 63-2-2 describes the zones where commercial shooting or archery ranges may be located.  The code’s definitions section contains a definition of “shooting or archery range.”  We will be reviewing this definition to ensure it is not overly broad.

  • Outside storage: The code does contain proposed limitations on outside storage – including portable on-demand storage containers. This language can be modified through the process and your initial feedback has been helpful to informing revisions.

  • Private gatherings: The draft revised code carries over language from the current code requiring permits for special events on private property, triggered by attendance and number of vehicles.

  • Design/Aesthetic standards: In the Transitional Development Area – within a 3-mile radius from the city of Durango, the design and aesthetic standards for development are more stringent than in the rest of the county These standards are in place under the current land use code and are intended to facilitate the annexation  process if a property owner pursues that option.

  • Tiny Homes: The proposed code describes standards for tiny homes that some folks found too stringent.  The allowance and regulation of tiny homes is new for the county so we welcome the community’s input on this topic.  Your initial feedback has been helpful to informing revisions.

  • Zoning District Maps: The maps depicting the zone and overlay districts throughout La Plata County have not yet been developed and will come later in the process after the zoning district descriptions have solidified through public input and revision. We anticipate these maps to be available in mid- 2018.

Goals
The goal of this project is to create a Land Use & Development Code that is responsive, functional and flexible to the varied needs and character of the community. This foundational regulation will build upon the updated La Plata County Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan establishes goals and a policy framework for land use planning in La Plata County; the Land Use Code is the regulatory tool for implementing that plan.  

The overall goals of the project are to: 

  • Reconcile and clarify the county’s plans, policies, and practices;

  • Combine & integrate the many overlapping land uses and standards into a unified land use system;

  • Reward compliant applications which are consistent with County plans;

  • Provide for predictability and improved certainty of the process and outcomes;

  • Create multiple paths to “yes” – what can (rather than what can’t) be done;

  • Use the carrot vs. the stick via incentives such as bonuses and procedural short-cuts;

  • Infuse best practice provisions (e.g. clustering, resource protection, and preservation);

  • Eliminate unnecessary process (e.g. more administrative approvals subject to clear standards);

  • Articulate clear development standards and expectations;

  • Streamline the development process; and

  • Protect and preserve the county’s most valued assets.

As La Plata County revises the Land Use Code, hearing from you on the current code, and the development-related opportunities and challenges in La Plata County is instrumental. Stakeholders with wide-ranging experience using the existing Land Use Code provide us with critical input from the outset and we invite you to provide us with your thoughts.

The process

La Plata County has hired a consultant, Kendig Keast Collaborative, to assist with revising the Land Use Code. County staff and Kendig Keast is working with the Board of County Commissioners, stakeholders across many interest areas, and the community at large to gather direction on the policies and priorities for the code revision.  

Since the project began in October 2016, there have been two rounds of meetings with stakeholders and several sessions with the Board of County Commissioners to identify the issues, concerns, priorities and policy directions to shape the revised code going forward. 

Land Use Code Timeline
November sessions

In November, Planning staff and consultants held sessions with five stakeholder groups to hear the priorities, concerns and experiences of community members from a wide range of sectors including agricultural interest, business & economic development, code users (architects, developers, planning agents, etc.), community interests and district planning groups. 

The broader community was invited to participate in this information-gathering effort. The results of this first round of outreach can be found below.

Summary of November 2016 stakeholder session feedback

Survey responses 


January sessions

The Board of County Commissioners met in January to discuss the process, outline points of consensus, discuss regulatory strategies and alternatives, and to initiate the process of determining policy directions to guide the Land Use Code revision. 


BOCC policies, principles & direction discussion outline 

The discussion began by introducing the focus points and discussing demographic and socioeconomic trends and forecasts; changing economies and demands; the importance of stakeholders and their interests, views, and desires; the history of planning and evolving perspectives as the county evolves and grows; and the values of natural and scenic resources. 

These factors and others will help frame the approach taken for the Land Use Code regarding open space and resource management, together with rural development, agricultural preservation, infrastructure provision, and business creation. 
Below is a summary of the points for which there was broad consensus, along with guiding principles for progressing with the rewrite process:

  1. Land use

  2. Growth management and coordination

  3. Infrastructure (particularly water and roads)

  4. Affordable housing

  5. Economic development

  6. Agricultural preservation

  7. Resource protection

From these broad categories, the BOCC, staff and the consultants expanded the discussion to more detailed levels, and conducted an exercise to identify consensus points on which areas to pursue in the revised Land Use Code. 

The stakeholder groups went through the same exercise, and we invited you to participate as well to help refine the policy framework for the revised code.

Stay informed & involved

Thank you for your interest in the La Plata County Land Use & Development Code revision process. Your input and participation is crucial to the effort. We will keep you informed of upcoming steps in the project and opportunities for you to be involved. Feel free to contact us at La Plata County with any questions, comments or input: Megan Graham, public affairs officer, (970) 382-3265.