“It almost gives the sense of not working with businesses, even if that’s not their intent,” said Laura Marchino, executive director of Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado. “This just adds to those barriers.”

Jonathan Romeo

Durango Herald

La Plata County considers six-month moratorium on development applications

La Plata County is expected to implement a six-month moratorium on all new development applications to prepare for adopting a new land-use code this fall.

Megan Graham, spokeswoman for the county, said moratoriums are standard practice for counties set to adopt new codes, so planning staff don’t have to process new developments under two different standards.

La Plata County commissioners are expected to vote on the moratorium May 5, which would be effective immediately if approved. It would last until Nov. 5, according to county records.

“In order to transition from one code to another, we have to have a period where we can’t accept new applications because we’re changing from one set of rules to another,” said Commissioner Julie Westendorff. “I’d like that to be as short as possible.”

But some say a moratorium sends the wrong message to businesses and developers who may be looking to move to La Plata County, especially during a time when the economy is suffering as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It almost gives the sense of not working with businesses, even if that’s not their intent,” said Laura Marchino, executive director of Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado. “This just adds to those barriers.”

The moratorium would apply only to development applications, not building permits, Graham said. So construction of a single-family home or accessory dwellings, for example, would still be allowed.

Development applications are typically associated with larger-scale projects, usually under a Class 1 or Class 2 permit. But if a project was previously approved, it can go onto construction.

“If you have your land-use permit, you can still get your building permit,” Graham said.

La Plata County is also proposing 16 exemptions to the moratorium for reasons such as a project currently in process, oil and gas activities or utility work, among others.

Applicants also have the opportunity to petition La Plata County commissioners should their project not fall within the allowed exemptions.

“Moratorium is an ominous word, “ Westendorff said. “But this is not as ominous as people are thinking it is.”

Westendorff added that with the coronavirus outbreak, it’s likely there would be fewer development applications during this time.

“Realistically, we’re going to see fewer projects anyway because of the instability in the world in general, specifically in business,” she said.

La Plata County has been attempting to update its land-use code, which hasn’t had a serious overhaul since the 1980s, since fall 2016. Graham said county officials expect to release a draft of the new codes in May.

Then, the county will host a series of public meetings to get residents’ feedback, Graham said.

County officials contacted more than 20 developers whose projects could be affected by the moratorium, Graham said.

“If you have an application in before May 5, it will still be processed,” she said.

Marchino said the moratorium will make it harder to entice businesses to be located in La Plata County, an ongoing problem for those in the business community.

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