Gunnison County commissioners steer the ship of land development

“We need to make our vision clear or we could see warehouse-type development all the way to Ohio Creek”

by Kristy Acuff

Hoping to make the muddy waters of bureaucracy a bit clearer, the Gunnison Board of County Commissioners is considering a policy directive to clarify the tenets of the Land Use Resolution (LUR), the document that governs unincorporated land in the county.

“One of the criticisms we hear of the current LUR is that it lacks certainty,” explained Cathie Pagano, director of community and economic development for Gunnison County. “We want to help citizens who are looking to develop in Gunnison County so they aren’t spending their time and resources on a process that never ‘gets to yes’ and we think that a more clear directive from the county commissioners could help that.”

If adopted, the policy directive would “encourage and direct industrial and commercial development into existing platted or zoned areas,” according to Pagano. In addition, the policy would “direct County staff to identify additional areas of opportunity that would be appropriate for designation as commercial/industrial platted parks.”

Such a directive would help the Gunnison County Planning Commission when it considers applications for development. According to Pagano, in the past 18 months county staff has received an increased number of applications to develop parcels of land that are not within platted commercial and/or industrial zones.

“Historically, the county has said yes to just about every commercial or industrial proposal and if this keeps up, we could be seeing development along the Highway 135 corridor all the way up to Ohio Creek with warehouse-type buildings in a very short time,” Pagano explained. “I don’t think we want that. In our One Valley Prosperity Project surveys, citizens cited over and over that they don’t want sprawl. They want compact walkable communities.”

“That is true, but we also don’t want to get to a place where we say, ‘No, you cannot develop in that area and guess what, we don’t have any alternative places where you can develop,” argued commissioner John Messner. “We need to continue to evolve areas in the county where it will be easy to get to a ‘yes’ for a development. We cannot shut out commercial and industrial entirely.”

“Yes, and we are doing that,” Pagano responded. “The city of Gunnison is in the process of completing a market analysis for potential property on the north side of the city and the three-mile perimeter around the city. We are feeling development pressure around the city of Gunnison and we need to approach that so it aligns with our community values. We want to create a land use pattern that makes sense and is compact and utilizes our resources.”

“I would think that the current LUR is equipped to handle these directives for development already,” added county manager Matthew Birnie. “But maybe we need more direction from the governing body, the BOCC.”

“Yes, I agree. Any kind of clarification you can give to the Planning Commission is helpful so they know exactly what the BOCC expects in terms of land development,” added Pagano.

“Former county commissioner chair, Phil Chamberland, used to say that our policy was ‘You can propose any project anyplace,’ but that is changing,” said commissioner Jonathan Houck. “While I agree with the tenets of that ‘any project anyplace,’ I think we have evolved to the point that we know we want to specify areas for commercial, industrial and residential development. So we can say to a developer, ‘If you are proposing a project, we want you to do it in the correct location.’ We want to have a vision for the land use zones in the county.”

“Whatever you decide, it needs to be clearly communicated to the public and to the members of the Planning Commission,” said commissioner Roland Mason.

“The sooner the better,” said Houck.

Commissioners then approved a draft of the policy directive, alongside another robust discussion, on July 2. 

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