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At last – planning commission adopts Falcon/Peyton master plan

On Aug. 5, the El Paso County Planning Commission approved the adoption of the Falcon/Peyton Small Area Master Plan by a 7-0 vote.The El Paso County Board of County Commissioners will now start using the plan to guide their land use decisions within the planning area.Before the vote, the planning commission heard public testimony from citizen Fred Lang, who lives within the planning area on the east end of Burgess Road.”I’m in the Dawson aquifer and we’re already experiencing very, very serious problems with our water,” Lang said. “Two of my neighbors have had to re-drill their wells. Since the construction on Meridian Road, I get all kinds of black sediment in my water, so I think [development] has already gone too far. I wish you would just reject the plan permanently.”Representing Protect Our Wells, hydrogeologist Julia Murphy also testified. Many of her recommendations were incorporated into the plan, but one was not. Murphy recommended that developers be prohibited from severing water rights from the land they sell to homebuyers. “If those people ever need to drill into a deeper aquifer, they won’t be able to,” Murphy said.Judy von Ahlefeldt, speaking as a citizen and on behalf of the Black Forest Land Use Committee, recommended that the planning commission delay adopting the plan until major changes could be made.”The Falcon/Peyton plan before you today has a lot of work in it, but it falls short of stating critical issues and formulating goals, policies and proposed actions to address them,” von Ahlefeldt said.”The two biggest issues facing the Falcon/Peyton area and the eastern county in general are water supplies and the proliferation of urban densities in scattered areas. Neither of these is adequately addressed by this plan. The continued proliferation of metro districts to provide water and sewer is acceptable according to this plan.”The plan lacks information on how much water is committed from each aquifer to metro districts and the number of acre feet used each year for house taps, irrigation and commercial/industrial use and which aquifer is being used by each commercial well.”All this needs to be included or we can’t get a handle on how much has already been committed and is currently being used.”Von Ahlefeldt criticized the planning process; whereby, and for the first time, the El Paso County commissioners contracted with consulting firm HB&A to guide the Falcon/Peyton Small Area Master Planning Advisory Committee in the process of developing the plan.”The planning commission should define the final product and set clear criteria for both the process and the content of small area plans,” von Ahlefeldt said. “You folks need to be the leaders in this, not just reviewers and approvers.”Von Ahlefeldt also suggested that the plan be reorganized along the lines of previous plans, such as the original Falcon/Peyton plan and the Black Forest plan.She asked that the portion of the land that was moved to the Falcon/Peyton planning area from the Black Forest planning area be returned to the Black Forest planning area. This particular area is the site of the high-density Sterling Ranch development.Given the scope of von Ahlefeldt’s suggestions, development services operations director Mike Hrebenar was asked if any money was left in HB&A’s contract with the county. Hrebenar said the contract was already a money loser for HB&A because the planning process took about twice as long as originally intended.HB&A consultant Aaron Briggs described the plan as adequate and satisfactory.”The perfect plan is the white whale,” Briggs said. “You can always spend more money to get to the perfect plan. You have to settle at some point for what you have as being the best you can do at the time with the information you have. Given an unlimited time frame, an unlimited schedule and an unlimited budget, there are lots of things I could do.”The Falcon/Peyton plan is the county’s first Web-based plan.”Carl Schueler [former manager of long-range planning who retired before the plan was finished] wanted to make this plan a prototype for future plans,” Briggs said, so the planning process would be less intensive in the future.”There are a lot of things we could go back and do differently – that was Carl’s point,” Briggs said. “We could record those things as we go along and next time, manage the process differently. The process could use some work, but we learned a lot.”Briggs said he planned to do some cleanup work on the plan, even if the planning commission immediately approved the plan and posted it on the county Web site.The planning commission didn’t see a need for a two-week delay to allow for more technical reviews and to give Briggs time to rework the plan.”If you continue [this] hearing, you’re opening it up to public testimony again,” said planning manager Elaine Kleckner.”I would say it’s already had technical review,” said planning commissioner David Powell, adding that much of the plan’s content was taken from other sources published by the county and state.”I think it’s about as accurate and concise as a long-range land use plan can possibly be. I don’t see what we would accomplish with a two-week delay. This is a living document. Development services can make changes.””The longer we delay this thing, the less likely we’re going to have anything to work with,” said planning commissioner Verlin Dickman. “Would I like more technical review? Yes.” But the plan will get more technical review when someone appears before the planning commission to argue a point, he said.After the vote, Hrebenar said that he believes the plan is “award winning … warts and all.”Lynne Bliss speaks outIn a separate interview, the advisory committee’s chairwoman, Lynne Bliss, said she thought the planning process was successful.”I particularly liked the outreach to the public to get their information and their attitudes on the growth issue. I’m very pleased with the whole process,” Bliss said.”I hope the plan holds up over time. For the next year or two or even five years, it will probably be looked at as pertinent and plans will be approved accordingly. But the farther out it goes, the easier it will be for someone to say ‘this is too old and things have changed.'”Bliss said she likes the Black Forest Land Use Committee and is interested in forming a similar committee for the Falcon/Peyton plan. “I’ve touched on it with a couple of people,” she said. “I need to find out who on the advisory committee or in the community might be interested in doing that.”The Black Forest Land Use Committee has been able to maintain “pretty tight control,” she said. “Some things have not gone their way. They’ve lost some segments, but for the most part, Black Forest has the same atmosphere and feel that they intended.”

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