Post Independent opinion: BOCC comp plan policy shift an insult to community effort
When the Garfield Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) recently decided to change the way the county handles development reviews, it did a disservice directly to a particular number of area residents, as well as to the county as a whole.
The residents are the ones who, over the course of more than a year, attended countless meetings and put hundreds of hours of work into the Comprehensive Plan 2030. Adopted in November 2010, the plan was meant to provide guidance for two decades or so.
The effect of the BOCC decision on the county as a whole is, necessarily, an unknown factor, as we all wait to see what the changes will mean in terms of actual growth.
The prejudices of the BOCC members aside, the comp plan, as it is generally known, was never a “mandatory” document, meaning a set of laws that developers had to follow in order to win approval for their developments.
Instead, the comp plan is a general guideline for development, as required by state law. Garfield County has had a comprehensive plan in place since 1968, updated periodically with citizen input, according to the county planning office.
The current BOCC voted on Aug. 15 to essentially water down the authority of the plan. This action was driven mainly by Commissioner Tom Jankovsky’s disappointment over his unsuccessful efforts to expand Sunlight Mountain Resort a couple of years ago.
The vote grew out of a hope that the changes will make it less burdensome for developers to get their projects approved and thereby create jobs for local workers.
What has resulted, however, is a feeling that the influence of the community at large is shrinking with regard to keeping an eye on growth, whereas the influence of developers just got stronger.
The BOCC accomplished this policy shift by fiat and in a hurry, compared to the months and months of citizen involvement that went into the newest version of the comp plan.
Less than two months after adoption of the comp plan, the BOCC started working to undermine its influence by pulling what few teeth the plan ever possessed.
The ultimate outcome of all this remains wrapped in mystery and unanswered questions.
What, for example, will be the role of the planning and zoning commission in this new regime?
Will more projects be reviewed through an administrative procedure by the staff, avoiding the expense and public involvement of the old method of holding hearings before the planning commission?
Will this mean a weakened oversight of development, to the detriment of the general public’s well-being?
To be sure, the BOCC is elected, in part, to keep the local economy rolling smoothly, and these changes could end up being highly beneficial.
But the main point here is that the changes were made too abruptly and without the kind of citizen input and involvement that was deemed valuable and necessary just a year ago.
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