Young senior planner for Garfield County brings passion to job
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” David Pesnichak’s office has a stunning, sweeping view of the Roaring Fork Valley.
Blocking a small part of that view, however, is a foot-high stack of paper.
Pesnichak has been working on that stack of paper ” which is set of updates to the county’s zoning regulations on temporary housing at area gas well pads ” for more than a year.
And he’ll be working on it for another month after the Garfield County commissioners voted earlier this month to continue their debate about the subject in another meeting.
But that’s the life for Pesnichak, 28, a senior planner for Garfield County. It’s a job, full of balancing multiple interests and politics, that he enjoys.
“It’s the influence over the political decision, being involved in that political process that’s really intriguing,” he said. “And then how the physical environment coalesces is very fascinating to me. I don’t know if it is to everybody.”
But sometimes when an application for development comes to the county, and it starts working its way through the political process, it can “take on a life of its own,” Pesnichak said.
The toughest thing about his job is using the county’s land use regulations, which have been cobbled together since 1973, along with taking comments from the public, and trying to draft a planning document, Pesnichak said.
It’s hard because sometimes residents might not necessarily agree with planners, but they have to abide by the county’s regulations, said Pesnichak. He said he feels a strong responsibility to the community as a planner.
“The job is a big responsibility,” Pesnichak said. “As planners and voters we all have that responsibility, but it is ultimately politicians that will make that determination.”
Keeping pace with growth
Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said any new county planner coming to the county better have their “roller skates” because the county is not a “retirement community.”
“It is a challenge every day,” Martin said. “We are the exception to the rule around the country; we are as busy as ever. We are still booming.”
Martin said planners are challenged every day and commissioners give them as much leeway they can, as much education as possible, and try to be as clear as possible in giving direction to planners.
“But sometimes, we are not clear,” Martin said.
Martin called Pesnichak a “nice young man, a very educated young man” who is “very passionate about his job.”
“He wants to put out all the options possible, and he doesn’t want to make a mistake,” Martin said.
Pesnichak was working in Williston, Vt., as a development review planner when he heard about the job opening in Garfield County. He applied for it and got the job.
One of the big differences between Williston and Garfield County, said Pesnichak, is that in Williston there was a lot more resistance to any residential development, which led the town to develop “complex growth management systems.” He said the concept of property rights is much stronger in Garfield County than it was in Vermont.
“Doing a subdivision (in Williston) was a competitive process,” Pesnichak said. “At the end of the year, the board pitted all the subdivisions that came in that year and essentially had a mudslinging contest between the applicants. They decided which ones they would pass and which ones they wouldn’t.”
The day of a planner
Essentially, planning involves a lot of paperwork, Pesnichak said. He begins his day about 7:30 a.m. so he can work on permit applications without disturbances.
About 50 percent of the permits he guides through the county are related to the oil and gas industry. Those are not for gas wells, but for accessory facilities like evaporation ponds, pipelines, compressor stations, and temporary housing on well pads. The other half of applications are for accessory dwelling units and subdivisions, Pesnichak said.
After the initial rush on the applications, Pesnichak said, his day is mostly “running between meetings” and participating in conference calls with applicants and attorneys.
Some of what Pesnichak has to work on, like the zoning updates to the man camps, is like writing a “never-ending book report,” Pesnichak said.
Pesnichak said a lot of the direction planners have for their work comes directly from Garfield County commissioners. However, he added that county building and planning director Fred Jarman does a “fantastic job” of being a liaison between the planning department and the commissioners.
Jarman said Pesnichak has quickly matured into a very involved and thoughtful planner, given the context of the county’s complex land use regulations.
“He has done a very good job of being that catalyst of working between landowners and the commissioners,” Jarman said.
Pesnichak was hired on as a long-range planner but because of understaffing he has had to do more current planning, Jarman said. Now that the planning department is expected to have more people, Pesnichak will focus more on long-term projects, Jarman said.
“I am excited to have him at the helm of the work,” Jarman said.
Pesnichak said the constant flipping through paperwork can take a toll at the end of the day.
“It is kind of like college when you’re cramming for final exams and you get home, and you can’t make complete sentences,” he said.
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