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El Paso County Colorado District 49

Woes of the land development code

Since I was sworn in as a county commissioner in January 2008, I have wrestled with the El Paso County Land Development Code (LDC), a 667-plus-page document that governs land use and development in our fine county. Wrestling because, in my opinion, the LDC has become a monster. It was created to responsibly handle land use but then bloated into a complicated web of bureaucratic oversight, which steps too closely to our private property rights and is in some cases outside the realm of cost of service to our citizens.Fixing what is wrong within the code is no afternoon challenge but is taking a great deal of time and effort and will require an incremental approach. I have written about this challenge in the past and will continue to aggressively work to strike the correct balance.The mentality of any governmental body predicting and regulating everything that could be a problem in the future creates unmanageable policy and is part of what is wrong. Forcing property owners to pay exorbitant fees to use their own property and jump through some of the regulatory hoops we have created adds to the burden.When a property owner wants to house their aging or ailing family member in a guesthouse or secondary building on their property and we charge them $3,500 for a variance of use or rezone to do so, something is very wrong. How can these kinds of applications be handled in a way that protects the taxpayers of the county from subsidizing development services but protects resources and private property rights at the same time?Now let me be clear: I don’t believe in elimination of the LDC. In an area like El Paso County, with a large population and diversity of land use, there needs to be a set of guidelines to safeguard our water supply both in terms of quantity and quality. There must be a set of rules for density and use so that your child’s school is not sitting next to a liquor outlet or an industrial complex, and there must be a system of impact/use fees to cover the cost of development and the administration of the system. When a landowner (large or small) wants to develop his/her land, creating various impacts on the surrounding areas like traffic, noise, water use and drainage; taxpayers should not have to subsidize that development. We must have a code that responsibly handles land use matters like these – and the answers and formulas are not simple.On April 28 and May 10, the BoCC approved two resolutions giving our development services staff direction. This direction included elements of the procedures manual and LDC, future LDC revisions, approving certain administrative authorities and providing temporary fee reductions in an effort to streamline more processes and lessen both the financial and bureaucratic burdens on our citizens.Some processes like plat amendments and corrections, lot line adjustments, right of way, utility and open space exemptions are now able to be handled by staff, if an applicant chooses; instead of coming before the BoCC for a hearing.Fees have been reduced across the board by 10 percent until the end of 2009, with direction given to staff to present the board with a sliding fee scale for our consideration by the end of the year, opening the door to a true cost-of-service model. It may be that some fees are too low, not adequately covering the cost of development; while others are too high, smothering small business and single-family homeowners.The El Paso County Land Development Code has a daily impact on citizens. It is my job to make sure that impact is not only constitutional and reasonable but also conducive to business growth and the protection of private property. I look forward to the coming months and the process of making substantive and productive revisions.Amy LathenEl Paso County Commissioner, District 2

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