A joint work session between Chaffee County Commissioners and the Planning Commission to map a process to revamp the Chaffee County Comprehensive Plan revealed not just the need for a review of the plan but a divergence of opinions on how the county is going to achieve the goal of a functioning comprehensive plan. Two groups emerged – one that wants to move forward immediately with an application to fund a portion of the effort and another group that wants to slow down the entire process.
“The urgency we feel ties to the DOLA (Department of Local Affairs) grant application of Aug. 1,”said Commissioner Greg Felt. “The next one isn’t available to apply to until Dec. 1. The thing is, this grant application can be modified as we get into the planning process.”
While Chaffee County adopted the current plan in 2000, the process to produce it began in 1996. It isn’t just outdated, it is ancient when one considers the changes that have occurred in Chaffee County since adoption in 2000. “it’s woefully out of date,” said Commissioner Keith Baker. “The advances in scholarship and planning concepts and the way things are published now … there have been so many advancements on a number of fronts since the underlying research was done on it. We weren’t worried about a water plan, we didn’t have beetle kill, we weren’t facing the transportation challenges. Plans require continuous review to stay relevant.”
The county has just come through a year-long Envision process that included input by dozens of nonprofit groups and individuals, touted as a solid basis for key elements of a comprehensive plan. While the Envision work hasn’t much depth in areas like affordable housing or transportation and the action plan runs heavy on one-time projects for area nonprofits, it offers solid direction in areas such as protecting open space, recreation access and forest health.
“Planning is a constant ongoing process – the more you do it, the more minor the corrections should be,” said Baker. “Right now, we’re way behind. This plan is supposed to help businesses know what direction the county is going. We just got a clear picture from the Envision process and a sense that folks are looking to us to keep this moving … We do that with DOLA evaluating our application, while we do the other things to refine this process concurrent with DOLA review.”
At immediate issue is an Aug. 1 deadline for the county to submit a grant application to DOLA for funding the cost of developing a new comprehensive plan. Director of General Administration Bob Christiansen drafted the base application at $100,000 (a 50-50 match that can be amended over time up to a $400,000 total cost). “It’s a rather speculative document right now that we can refine. And we can amend it as we get into the process and the stages and then submit for a second round of DOLA funding. The other applications showed more money in the land use code part of the process.”
Planning Commission Chair Mike Allen led those opposing, saying they’d rather wait until at least Dec. 1 to submit. “It’s scope – do we dust off the old one or do we start fresh?” said Allen. “The question in my mind is, an opportunity to pursue a DOLA grant is a great opportunity, but we need the right people at the table for the process and to get a community consensus … I’d prefer we do the Dec. 1 date so we take more time to plan this.”
“The application just keeps the process going and gets the funding ready for the project,” said Planning Commissioner Marjo Curgus, who has extensive planning experience.
“From generation to generation of the comp plan, you’ll find the current one isn’t even a functional document,” said Allen. “And this application document itself – we need someone who’s innovative, who’s out leading. We should work on an Request for Qualifications then add a Request For Information … We could short list a few leading companies and bring them in to interview.”
“Every good planning consultant will write in that you want it to be a co-designed effort … across these audiences … with these outcomes.,” “Curgus said. “What you’re wanting to put out to do an RFQ or RFI is what you would work together with a consultant to define.”
Potts, who is term-limited this year, said, “It’s more important to do a good job than a fast job. I want to shop for a consultant.”
“We have lots of talent right here on the planning commission – including development. I encourage Chaffee County to use the hands-on of what is and what isn’t in this county,” said Planning Commissioner Karin Adams.
“No doubt it needs to be updated. But I think we need to slow down and get a better scope on this project. We should shop around – I’d like to interview folks,”said Planning Commissioner Rob Treat.
“If it has to be updated, then we’re driving the process if we define the areas where we see the existing comp plan is lacking,” said Planning Commissioner Tracy Vandaveer.
Planning Commissioner Joe Stone said that, since they had received the grant application just prior to the meeting, he didn’t feel he had enough time to review it. “Almost everything I do is deadline driven, but I think we need more time to review this.”
“On that time frame (Dec. 1), when would the resources arrive?” asked Curgus. “You don’t need a perfect scope of work for the grant application; mostly they want to know what you are trying to adopt. For instance, the steps around resilience … I’d want to make sure we don’t set the scope so narrowly that it doesn’t allow for input from the public.”
Allen outlined a process that would begin in December, clarify the contract award levels and RFQ step. “There is no way we’d start until next summer – RFQs takes time. We wouldn’t be the only people being educated.”
A budget of $200,000 (split with DOLA) would cover a solid consultant and that obtaining public input into the plan might go higher, Curgus said, while a public engagement process can take three months to set up due to the enormous amount of work and committee structure to attract large audiences.
Baker said the county wants a quality outcome, but right now it’s struggling from a lack of data. Discussing the situation after the meeting, he said, “We haven’t done enough largely because of a lack of financial and personnel resources. Other things might not be as important, but they become urgent.”
“Let’s focus on the comp plan, not be so concerned with details, but with the big picture,” said Felt. “Then, do a second process if we want to take this thing apart. … I’m interested in the conflict between the comp plan and the essential tensions that exist in this county – the ironies, the trade-offs. So in addition to the comp plan, we have a document that says there is no perfect answer to some of these things – there are trade-offs.
“(If) you want these beautiful open spaces and the benefit from that, you’re going to have to deal with grazing on public lands. There’s well augmentation, lot size – these are the conflicts. When that is memorialized, then we mesh it with the daily reality. … What we saw in Envision was that the fundamental driver is growth. What does that mean to community, the economy, natural resources?”
The group decided the Planning Commission will come up with a date for the next joint session, after a back and forth on which pieces of information should become base documents; from the Envision report, to the old comp plan, the current Land Use Code, or some documents not yet in existence.
Baker said the reality is that the Planning Commission has no authority to stop county commissioners from proceeding with a funding application to fund the operations and projects of Chaffee County. “That decision lies with the commissioners. Yes, we could go ahead and submit but probably won’t right now; we are trying to be collaborative.”