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Planning 101 for La Veta

by Carol Dunn

LA VETA- Two representatives of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) met with the La Veta Town Board on Monday to talk about comprehensive planning and the annexation process. Bill Gray and Lee Merkel described the process of planning for private development so it makes the community a better place and helps target spending to the goals and objectives set out in the plan.  Gray told the trustees, “Community decision making is a key element involving local leadership.  It’s on the shoulders of the local leaders to show why planning is important.”

    Gray described a comprehensive plan as one that includes social, transportation, housing, infrastructure, emergency preparedness, and the economic base.  “It’s also a continuous process,” he said.  “It is the legal basis for land use regulations,” action-oriented tools, and the basis for budgeting.

    Gray led the group through a list of reasons the Town may not want to plan, the first being that it is a slow process and does not result in immediate change.  He said a comprehensive plan is “only good if it’s used . . . as a blueprint for action.”  People are reluctant to join in the planning process if “the plan will just get shelved.”

    He also stressed that having a plan won’t necessarily bring development that would have otherwise passed over La Veta.  He said some local people may feel that government is overstepping its role or restricting private property rights and property values.

    Gray said that planning pushes a Town toward a “community vision.”  He told the Board that planning is a process of anticipating problems and how to solve them.  It should involve common sense and community debate in the decision making, and the resulting community management gives a sense of community pride and accomplishment.

    Merkel acknowledged that La Veta has the “hot potential issues involving the golf course development.”

    Merkel and Gray then described the process of developing annexation policies, so land can be added to the community “if there exists a community interest.”  Gray described the “3-Mile Plan” needed before the Town can adopt an annexation ordinance, and he endorsed the Colorado Municipal League book “Annexation in Colorado” as a good text on annexation rules and procedures.   Gray pointedly told the group, “Residential development will cost more money in municipal services than it will bring into the Town in revenues from property taxes.”  Although a few people at the meeting likened La Veta’s development to that of Westcliffe, Merkel said, “The resort concept, the golf course, makes it different from Westcliffe.”  He then posed the question about the Grandote Peaks development, “Do you want it to happen outside of Town?  I would guess not.”  Merkel said the Town can phase or restrict when development occurs, controlling the pace of growth.  Gray suggested the trustees consider several questions regarding the Grandote development:  What are the unique benefits to the town?  What are the costs?  How will the costs be shared, or who will bear the cost of the new annexation?  Can it be served by the current sewer and water infrastructure?  Gray suggested the Town can require that the developer pay for past municipal service upgrades that would benefit the development.  He also said the Town can require remedial action to cure health and safety issues involving the land to be annexed. “That’s what the annexation process allows you,” he said, “the ability to analyze the costs and benefits of development.”

    Gray added, “There is no annexation until you receive a request for one . . . a petition.”  He described the required Annexation Impact Report, which considers how the development will impact community services (police, schools, water, sewer) and the community’s land use patterns and density.

    Merkel had some potentially good news for the Board.  DOLA will have grants available this fall for 50% of the cost of community planning, up to $200,000.  “It could be a comprehensive plan, a 3-Mile Plan or other work,” he said.  The application deadline is August 1, with decisions announced by October 1.  “Part of the mission is to have the grants awarded before the legislature comes back into session,” he added.  Merkel recommended the Town hire a professional firm to help put together a comprehensive plan.  “This is a plan the community needs to feel really comfortable with,” he said.   Gray added that it’s important to engage local stakeholders and get their input.

    After the session, the trustees appeared to be in agreement that the Board will announce at its next meeting its intention to begin the comprehensive planning process for La Veta.  As Trustee Dale Davis put it, “We have to.”

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