City land use

Effort should focus on expediency, big picture, not get bogged down in minutiae

In revising its land use development code, the Durango City Council, Planning Commission and Planning and Development Department have before them a task essential for providing clarity of vision for how the city will grow as the demands of its residents evolve. As it tackles the project, the city will best serve its constituents by keeping its focus relatively broad and avoiding unnecessarily distracting issues. In so doing, the city can provide clear guidelines for development in the coming years.

The effort, as is too often the case, is long overdue. Delayed by recession-related staffing cutbacks and other distractions, the land use development code has become outdated, but the languishing revision process is stymieing those who are seeking approval for new projects. That uncertainty does not help reinvigorate the development that has faltered during the recession, and it is critical that the city redouble its efforts to update the code by the April timeline it has set.

At the same time, the city would be wise to avoid considering every possible potential land use that could come before planners for approval. Spending time trying to wrap every flavor-of-the-month development scheme into the land-use code is neither productive nor a good use of staff, Planning Commission or City Councilís time. It amounts to so much make-work. Instead, those involved with the revision should focus on long-term planning goals and how the code can be crafted to meet them.

Doing so requires discipline and discretion on the part of staff and appointed or elected officials. It requires that they not be taken with pet projects or respond to rumors of proposals in the pipeline. They must seek and incorporate residentsí input into the final code that must also consider how the community has changed since the last revision occurred.

Even more difficult, planners and the City Council must attempt to anticipate what is likely to take place here in the years to come. That, more than all the other tenets of the planning process, will be done best with a wide lens that does not attempt to bring into sharp focus any and all potential development scenarios.

Considering water use, landscaping requirements, design specifications and location of various development types is critical. So, too, is providing certainty for businesses looking to relocate, open or expand in Durango. These can be handled with relatively concrete provisions that result from resident and lawmaker input and that of professional planners.

The City Council has committed to completing the land use development code revision by April, and it should hold itself to that commitment, regardless of the challenges that arise. Reaching that goal will be made easier by keeping the focus of the exercise sharp, while not getting mired in hypothetical or politically correct details. This will require leadership and, perhaps, difficult decisions. There is much to gain from making them.