Sharon is a former member of the El Paso County Planning Commission, the editor of The Smokey Wire; and she is retired from the planning division of the U.S. Forest Service.
The recent controversy over the cement plant in Falcon shows the importance of planning and zoning. People were concerned and upset at granting a variance for an industrial use in an area zoned for agriculture. Thanks to the Board of County Commissioners, it was not approved. But weíre going to face increasing pushes for development as the city of Colorado Springs continues to grow. Theyíre all coming to the east, and thatís us. Our long dreamed-of King Soopers is likely to be overcrowded the day it opens.How growth is managed and the rules that will guide the next proposal for a cement plant, or any other use, will depend on the El Paso County Master Plan currently in development. If you look at the current Draft Areas For Change in the El Paso County Master Plan, you will find a large yellow swath between Falcon and Peyton slated for new development. What exactly does that mean? That we expect agricultural zoned land to become developed. But what kind of development? Do we get to choose restrictions? Why did they pick those areas and leave others?Unfortunately, itís not as easy to get involved in the Master Planning process as it was to attend hearings on the cement plant. For one thing, itís mostly online, especially recently due to COVID. In my neighborhood in Peyton, many folks get about 3mbps download speed, and it takes a while for the site to load. I donít know that rural broadband (or lack thereof) and Arcgis are all that compatible. The consultants whom El Paso County hired seem very competent, but they are from Chicago.The plan development process is complex and lengthy, and started out fairly visionary and abstract. We had a public meeting in Falcon, but few people attended. It seems like there are long periods of waiting such that itís hard to know when to check in and when to comment.And even if people had the time to figure out how and when to comment, many people in El Paso County tell me ìwhatís the use? In this county, development wins every time.î But if we never field a team, weíll never win.A similar example is from the recent development of the County Water Master Plan. The County tapped (so to speak) groups of water providers to engage in the plan. But we who depend on private wells didnít have an organization to represent us, so we didnít have a voice.We need a network of volunteers ó perhaps called Falcon Citizens for Wise Growth -ó who will track the process, alert people to concerns and opportunities, and become a force in the county to be reckoned with. In my experience on the Planning Commission, sometimes the Black Forest Preservation Committeeís input was considered. In 2019, Black Forest volunteers formed the Black Forest Water and Wells Committee to educate and advocate about water.We can imagine the strip of agricultural land between Falcon and Peyton, where cattle currently graze, being developed in a variety of ways or in a conservation easement.†Right now some of the owners of that land are discussing how they will develop it with the county. Let’s not wait until there is a proposal on the table to start thinking about how we’d like the inevitable development to happen. If we don’t pay attention and speak out, it will be too late.