A Look At La Plata County’s New Land-Use Code

After years of attempted revision, La Plata is finally set to implement  a new land-use code on September 15th. The current land-use code is unloved by both developers and residents alike. Due to poor guidance on standards, developers can easily spend thousands of dollars on ultimately unapproved projects, while a lack of  clear rules leaves residents concerned over the types of projects that can be built in their neighborhoods.

Sketch review

Before getting to work on a particular project, developers in La Plata County typically have to spend  time and money planning different aspects, including, traffic, water and engineering. If the land is forested or overgrown, land clearance may also be necessary. Professional  land clearing services in Colorado can survey the property for potential problems and remove them. The land is then free to be developed safely and efficiently. However, even after developers have invested valuable time and money, it’s not uncommon for them to be eventually told the area is incompatible with their proposed project later down the line. As a solution, the new code is introducing an initial “sketch review”, which includes a comprehensive outline of the project, so it’s viability can be assessed from the very beginning. “It’s not a full approval, but it’s a sort of green light to proceed as opposed to doing all those studies and being told no,” says La Plata County spokeswoman, Megan Graham.

Streamlined review process

In an effort to get smaller projects off the ground faster, county officials have streamlined the review process in the new land-use code. Now, smaller projects are subject to just a quick administrative review that bypasses the usual lengthy planning process. Before this development, numerous meetings with the Planning Commission or the Board of County Commissioners were required before projects could begin. Additionally, the new land-use code is lowering the number of public hearings needed for certain other kinds of projects. In particular, minor subdivisions used to have to attend two Planning Commission meetings, as well as one county commission meeting. With the new code, only one Planning Commission meeting is required.

Improved standards and definitions

The current code fails to clearly lay out development standards — largely because it’s written to solely specifically address rural-residential subdivisions. “It doesn’t contemplate many other uses or articulate standards for them,” explains Graham. “So bed and breakfasts, gravel pits, marijuana facilities – standards had to be developed for every project, which is difficult on staff members and the applicant. It’s hard to be consistent if there’s no code to point to.” Fortunately, the new land-use code is equipped with broad standards developers can easily  apply to any project.

Additionally, the new land-use code features clear definitions for essential development terms, including “compatibility” and “performance-based zoning”. These terms are essential for the success of a code, so county staff have made sure they’re consistent throughout. “It improves the user experience and makes navigating the process as clear as can be,” says Graham.

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