Commissioners continue talk about focusing development

More discussion to come March 9

The discussions about how Gunnison County can direct development to certain areas and keep it out of others is taking on a more serious tone, after the Board of County Commissioners directed staff to get some information on population density in the county together ahead of a work session scheduled for March 9.



The county commissioners have been pushing the idea of clustering development around population centers toward the Planning Commission and staff for at least the past year and a half.
In the county’s Strategic Plan, which is a continuously updated list of priorities for county departments, one goal was to bring 40 percent of approved developable lots close to population centers. After an analysis by Planning Director Joanne Williams showed that the goal had been passed, the new number is 90 percent.
Commissioner Jim Starr sees that as a victory on the part of county planners, in some respects, since it has been a county policy for the past 20 years to encourage growth near central services. But to give the effort more traction, the push is on to clarify some of the confusion surrounding what the commissioners want from planning staff going forward.
“Our policy has been to encourage growth around population centers, but it had no teeth in the past,” Starr said. “So one of the tentative steps toward making that more of a reality on the ground is that we’re going to focus on the three-mile plans at this point.”
While Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte and the city of Gunnison all have three-mile or area plans, Gunnison is the only municipality that the county has had an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with, although it is currently awaiting renewal, to formalize cooperation between the city and county.
Starr said he hopes the county will be able to enter into an IGA with Crested Butte soon and that the IGA with Gunnison can be reinstated once the city is finished revising its land-use regulations.
Three-mile plans give the municipalities a chance to envision what they would like to see around their communities, without having any land use authority over that property. Right now the county uses “overlays” on their planning maps to show those three-mile areas, as well as areas recognized as sage-grouse habitat. Those overlays help inform the county’s planning decisions.
“By encouraging growth around the towns, we have to be sure that the municipalities are willing to take on that growth if it is restricted elsewhere,” Starr said.
As the discussions about three-mile plans moves forward, county planners and planning commissioners are hoping for some clarification on what the county commissioners are really looking for: growth focused around population centers or central services.
“What are you trying to accomplish?” asked planning commissioner Richard Karas. “Are you trying to encourage growth near population centers or are you trying to encourage growth near central services, because they are two distinct things.”
Population centers are areas defined in the county’s Land Use Resolution, but Karas pointed out that the central services are often considered to be municipal water and sewer, which causes some problems as those services are extended away from towns.
 “At the heart of it, it is still a question of impact. The impression I have is that the goal of having growth and development near population centers is to minimize impact from growth and discourage impact from growth in rural areas. It strikes me in thinking back that that’s exactly what the locational standards in the LUR say,” Karas said.
He said that a more clearly defined goal would be helpful for the Planning Commission if they were ever directed to amend the LUR in a way that would help direct growth to certain areas.
“When we talked about encouraging growth to take place near population centers and central services, I was more focused on the population center aspect of that as opposed to us providing central services to the hinterlands,” commissioner Hap Channell said. “I think that much of us providing the utility services to outlying areas has been us trying to fix problems that have been created by previous, long-ago subdivision approvals.”
The commissioners will work on defining where they would like to see growth and, in the meantime, they directed staff to do some additional analysis on where development has been approved in the county. The commissioners will meet to discuss the goal of focusing growth at a work session March 9.

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