It’s summer in the high country. While the rest of Chaffee County has been focused on recreational tourism business, hosting family reunions, weddings, music and more, Chaffee County officials and CTA Group, have been quietly at work. With the next public session for the comprehensive plan process coming up on Aug. 28, county leaders are concerned that a broad swath of the county population needs to participate in the planning process. CTA Group is the consultant firm hired to help the county develop its new comprehensive (comp) plan.

Ark Valley Voice sat down to talk with CTA principal Wayne Freeman about the process, and the similarities and differences among the counties and municipal areas for which they have completed comprehensive plans.

Freeman said that in Colorado, the standard growth area to work with is a three-mile radius of municipal areas, unlike Montana, where the development area is a four-mile radius.

“In general, says Freeman, “it’s best to put larger amounts of people, by or near, municipal areas so that growth happens closer to where growth has already occurred. This is the West, so water is king here, and so many communities are dealing with the issues that Chaffee County is.” He referenced recent work by his firm for the Roaring Fork Valley. “They have water, but no mechanism to deal with affordable housing issues.”

Asked about what Chaffee County is doing right as we settle into the planning process, Freeman said, “You have an engaged group in elected council people and planning commissioners. That is really important. Technically we work with the planning commission, but the commissioners are involved.”

Freeman pointed out the importance of getting the word out to reach as broad an audience as possible. He emphasized that audience diversity is essential. Otherwise, the plan represents only a few groups of people. In this county retired people and those representing specific interests tend to get heard more than young people and young families who might be working while daytime meetings are going on. For that reason, said Freeman, CTA and the county will be adding meetings at various times and in many locations so that especially the young working audience can be heard.

“While I got a lot of good information from the Envision Chaffee County process, the commissioners have been clear that we want to make sure there no stones [go] unturned. We are reaching out and we want the community involved. Comprehensive plans require public involvement.”

Freeman noted that at this point, the effort is only at Stage 1 – gathering input from various demographic and geographic groups. “We’re at the higher level, and we haven’t drilled down yet. The public sessions will be a combination of larger public workshops and smaller neighborhood gatherings, designed to reach a broad audience.”

Centerville Ranch looking west toward the Collegiate Peaks. (Photo courtesy of Central Colorado Conservancy)

Freeman encourages the public to go to www.together.chaffeecounty.org and complete the county survey before the Aug. 28 public workshop. He added that the website is managed daily so that people can go to it often for updated information.

The last Chaffee County Comprehensive Plan was done in 2000, a painful process that took nearly four years. Freeman says this time, based on CTA’s extensive experience in these plans, the process is 18 months from the start to a completed plan.

“Obviously, this is long overdue,” said Freeman. “A good comp plan should be reviewed and revised every five years or so. But kudos to Chaffee County for recognizing the need. The best thing people can do is come out to one or more meeting and let us know what they think. Take the survey. People should know that they can add specific comments because it can take very detailed information.”

Freeman said one of the most important tools in developing the plan is an interactive map that allows members of the public to tag specific issues for specific areas of the county. He pointed out that some of the county’s main issues, like the housing crisis, not only can it be solved, but can be specifically addressed within the comp plan process.

“For instance, we could build in an actual housing study, with an outside expert who only does affordable housing. The thing people need to realize is that the problems we’re dealing with right now is something that comes with [being] so long between comprehensive plan updates. Our job is to create a roadmap, a framework, for land use and other land policy issues so both developer and jurisdictional representatives can all work from the same playbook.

“A comp plan provides a framework [on which to base land-use code] that makes it easier,” added Freeman. “If I’m a developer, I can go in based on the comp plan and be reasonably assured that I won’t have to go in and keep changing things. … The other thing a comp plan does is provide that review opportunity to surface complaints and suggestions. A comp plan base holds up in court, so when it comes time to make some of those hard decisions, county officials can go and point to it, and we had a public process. A good comp plan will stand up as the roadmap over time.”

Freeman pointed out that it is CTA’s job to put forth the facts. “If you leapfrog your capacity to provide services, down the road, the lack of services become problematic for higher density developments that have occurred throughout.”

Freeman said that one example of how an area handles growth is to designate growth “donuts.”

“Where you have growth areas, like Johnson Village [ that is] not on a sewer system. Some things should be tackled, and it can be designated an unincorporated growth area. Part of our process is to come up with key questions and to produce scenarios where we get at what-ifs. If it is going to grow this way, are you supportive of this growing this way? Or are you more comfortable with growing that way? That’s what we’re going to do with the public meeting Aug. 28.”

The meeting is tentatively scheduled for the SteamPlant in Salida.