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Routt County one up on planning

Jennie Lay

Following in the footsteps of Colorado’s anti-sprawl movement, state Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, has a new plan to help put teeth in county master plans.

Pommer, a first-term representative, is introducing a bill in the next Colorado legislative session that will require city and county comprehensive land use plans, or master plans, to mirror area zoning regulations within four years. Routt County’s existing efforts to do exactly that put it ahead of the curve on the legislation, county officials say.

“I want to bring sanity to planning in Colorado,” Pommer said about his upcoming bill.

During a 2001 special legislative session that focused on “smart growth” initiatives, Colorado legislators required many communities to create comprehensive land-use plans to foster better regional planning. But few counties have turned their comprehensive plans into zoning laws, Pommer said. And the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in a 1996 decision that master plans are merely advisory.

That makes land-use planning way ahead of the game in Routt County. Generally when the master plan is revised, Routt County goes through zoning and subdivision regulations to make sure they match, said Caryn Fox, director of Routt County planning.

“We’ve gone above and beyond the minimums,” Fox said.

Unlike zoning regulations, master plans are currently not enforceable by Colorado law. That means some Coloradans are buying land with a blurry future — zoning could show open space where a master plan shows a big-box strip mall for the same parcel. Pommer said people have a right, when they buy a plot of land, to know what is going to happen around it, and he thinks his bill will help ensure this.

“This is a great disconnect between planning and what really happens,” Pommer said about many Colorado counties.

But that’s not really the case in Routt County. Fox said Routt County has had a master plan since 1980, and zoning and subdivision regulations since 1972. And now that the recent lengthy process of revising the county master plan is complete, she said Routt County is in the process of revising zoning regulations to match it.

This is the kind of community plan Pommer envisions for the rest of Colorado — he calls it his legislation the “Colorado Field of Dreams Act.” He said he would seek support from the Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties Inc.

Doug Monger, Routt County commissioner and Colorado Counties Inc. board member, said there are a lot of conflicts and ambiguities in master plans. He said it becomes a hard thing to think of every possible action and its unintended consequences when writing a master plan versus making zoning regulations.

“I would support us being at the table again,” Monger said, referring back to past discussions Colorado Counties has participated in regarding similar planning legislation.

But Monger also said it will be tough for Pommer’s bill to gain support from county commissioners unless commissioners gain the power to pass both master plans and zoning regulations. Right now, commissioners pass zoning laws while planning commissions adopt master plans.

“The bottom line is, we’re the ones who are accountable to the voters on this,” Monger said.

Pommer’s bill will be introduced at the start of Colorado’s regular legislative session, which begins Jan. 7.


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