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In a work session that seemed at times to include equal parts frustration and hope, the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners and the Chaffee Planning Commission reviewed progress to date on the first draft of the new Chaffee County Comprehensive (“Comp”) Plan and charted next steps. The nine-month-long process has already generated mountains of data. But the meeting confirmed that what is needed now is a series of collaborative gatherings to flesh out the meaning of the data and use it to form a clear vision statement, supported by goals and strategies designed to direct growth and protect that which makes this county so special.

A view across ranch fields toward the Collegiate Peaks Range in Chaffee County.

The entire process, say county leaders, is both deliberative and collaborative.

“These can’t be capricious goals and strategies,” said Planning Commission Chair Mike Allen. “There are some things we must have to have a sustainable community here … there are other things that are nice to have. Still other things that some might want to have.”

In the end, the group was reminded that it has the authority not just to shape the final comprehensive plan, but to establish it along with the new county land use code (LUC) that will follow the Comp plan process, as an enforceable county guidance document.

“Your Comp plan can legally be defensible in court to guide decision making…. beyond the county’s land use code, this is a guidance document,”said Planning Commissioner Marjo Curgus. “Not everything that could possibly happen is spelled out in a land use code – so this document guides those who must decide if a project meets our intent.”

“You said earlier the Comp plan could be adopted, giving it basic enforce-ability as a force of law, right?” asked Planning Commissioner Hank Held.

Curgus agreed, saying that creating consistency between the Comp plan and the Land Use Code meant that both could then be used for review. “Let’s say there is a type of development we DO want – but it’s not (yet) in Land Use Code, but it is clearly a thing we do want. Then the Comp Plan is brought in to verify the fit. Our code might say it [in a given situation], but we just don’t do it because we don’t have a document that we can use….that says ‘we encourage this’.”

A public hearing by Central Colorado Conservancy reviewed the details of the historic conservation easement agreement between CCC and Centerville Ranch owner Jeff Ince. Photo by Dan Smith.

“So we could add language about decisions that for some reason the comp plan failed to consider. For instance, there is nothing about non-site-built, small footprint residential structures in the comp plan – but it is reasonable that it could turn up in an application,” said Planning Commissioner Anderson Horne.

Commissioners discussed gap areas in the draft document, areas where they want more detailed information.

“For me, what we need to focus on is the key trade-off scenarios — what we need to have called out for the present and future,” said Chaffee Commissioner Chair Greg Felt. “For me also, it fails to define engagement – what I see is a lot of one-person talking to them, as opposed to round table discussions … I want [community] consultative input about the scenarios we face – where we say ‘if this happens, then that’ … It’s a draft and it needs a lot more on the tradeoff side to be of use to me, or for someone in my position. I don’t want this to be a thing on the shelf.”

The group discussed information gaps, including the contract requirement to provide a critical assessment of water use for potential future development areas. “I feel like there are some big blank spots having to do with issues and some info you’d want to have,” said Felt. “Things like how is our government structured? What is the tax structure now, so there is some background as to why there are suggestions to change it.

“There are some shortcomings in the draft…now we do the public review and comment period,” said Commissioner Keith Baker. “We want a quality product – but this can’t go on forever.”

Felt agreed, saying that he wants a final product before Dec. 2020, so that if there were leadership changes [due to elections] that there was a solid strategic plan on which to proceed.

The group mapped a collaborative process to flesh out the draft into final form including;

  • Initial review of all the trend data
  • Drafting the county Vision, Values and Guiding Principles
  • Definition of the goals and strategies
  • Two work sessions to define the key themes across six major areas, including collaborative discussion of the scenario tradeoffs to manage the county’s future growth.
  • A series of four community sub-area sessions; for Salida, Buena Vista, Poncha Springs and a mid-valley meeting for the center of the county.

The assembled group agreed that the scenarios exploration is a huge topic that will drive what to do with the remainder of the plan. As they review the data, the group will need to consider development potential, the impacts of types of development, and the resource allocations that might be necessary, given different growth scenarios.

The first month of meeting dates was established:

Time/Date                                Topic
4 – 6 p.m. March 31                Part I – goals and strategies

4 – 6 p.m. April 7                    Part II – goals and strategies

5 – 7 p.m. April 14                   Scenarios discussion

6 – 8 p.m. April 28                 Group meeting – synthesize