Garfield County looking to revise land use codes |

Garfield County looking to revise land use codes

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Even though Garfield County’s current land use review codes are little more than two years old, the county government is embarking on a revisionist review of those codes.

The goal, the county commissioners have agreed, is to create a more business-friendly regulatory environment and spur economic development.

“The hindrance of the codes is there,” declared Commissioner John Martin at work session Tuesday, referring to the view that the county’s land use codes can obstruct the plans of developers and business entrepreneurs.

He said the revisions should reflect the “changing philosophy” of the county’s elected leadership, from a philosophy of constraint to one of cooperation.

“We need to look at that with a clear mind,” he said, choosing whether the county will restrict developers or aid and guide them.

A desire to streamline the Unified Land Use Code of 2008 has been a topic of discussion since last year, when then-candidate Tom Jankovsky made it part of his successful campaign to unseat former commissioner Tresi Houpt.

At the work session, Jankovsky noted that a recent letter to the editor in the Post Independent lamented that government too often pays for studies and policy initiatives that end up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.

“We want to stay away from that,” Jankovsky said, predicting that the current effort will not be simply more talk.

“This is action, and that’s good,” he concluded.

The effort to streamline portions of the codes has been under way for some time, according to building and planning department director Fred Jarman and long-range planner Tamra Allen.

At the Tuesday work session, the two produced a lengthy list of changes incorporated into the current codes when they were adopted in 2008.

Heading up the list of changes was a decision to leave approval or denial of amendments to land use applications up to an administrative review by Jarman and his staff.

That decision, Jarman explained to the BOCC, helped developers avoid having to go through a second set of review hearings, to make even minor changes to already-approved proposals.

Other changes written into the 2008 codes include:

• Allowing property owners to subdivide lots that have already been subdivided.

• Creating a new commercial business zone district outside the municipalities.

• Adding an amendment process for land use change permits and divisions of land, eliminating a requirement that any changes to a land use approval must go through the entire land use review process again.

• Changing the sketch-plan stage of a development review process from mandatory to optional.

• Requiring pre-application conferences for all land use applications and proposals, before they even enter the review process.

“If you’re going to come into Garfield County and you want to do something, come visit with the planning staff,” Jarman said, explaining that the requirement for pre-application conferences has been “really good. I think it’s made for better applications” by the time a proposal is formally submitted.

Although the work session was not intended to solicit specific suggestions from the county commissioners, some were brought up.

Martin, for example, wondered why developers seemed uninterested in a new incentive provision for preserving open space. The trade-off is higher density in the remainder of the parcel, meaning more units per development.

“Why isn’t that being used?” Martin asked, and then answered his own question by suggesting the regulation may need to be reconsidered and revised.

Jarman and Allen, conceding that work remains to be done in streamlining the codes, suggested creation of a working group of citizens, developers and others to analyze the codes.

Any code revision that followed such an analysis, according to a memo from Jarman, should ensure that the review process “serves the public interest, is efficient in its process and procedures, is sufficiently easy to use … and … does not unduly hinder economic development within the county.”

The overall evaluation of the codes, and any revisions deemed necessary, are expected to take up to nine months, including a month or more of public hearings prior to adoption.

The planners also recommended the BOCC bring in an “unbiased third party” to do the work. That would allow the planning staff to continue with what Allen termed its “full work load” of reviewing land use applications and other tasks, as well as remove any potential for departmental biases to get in the way of working with the development community.

Jarman estimated the project would cost the county between $50,000 and $70,000, and noted that the funding had been written into the 2011 budget already.

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