City, county get together on growth
Friends of the Animas Valley objects to proposed intergovernmental agreement

Sidebar: Local ballot may include Smart Growth Initiative

A backhoe clears a path for a waterline going to a new home along County Road 203 recently. A new intergovernmental agreement between the city and
county would ensure that the two entities work in tandem when planning for areas bordering city limits which someday could be annexed. However, responsible- growth advocates say the agreement will open the door for a tripling in the area’s population. /Photo by Todd Newcomer.

A draft version of a newly updated intergovernmental agreement between the City of Durango and La Plata County has some responsible-growth proponents anxious about sprawl beyond city limits and a potential three-fold surge in the city’s population. But city and county officials say the agreement is only a guiding document designed to ensure that the two governments will plan future development together, and the proponents don’t need to worry that it’s a map of absolutes.

Currently, the city and county are reviewing a new version of the agreement that involves areas bordering city limits. While the agreement identifies land that the city may want to annex in the future, officials say it doesn’t guarantee they will definitely make the property part of the city.

“The purpose of this agreement is to clarify and improve upon areas that relate to joint planning review of projects,” says City Planner Greg Hoch.

The IGA replaces previous versions of agreements between the city and county. As growth progresses on both city and county land, Hoch says the agreement was due for updating so that the two entities can ensure any development is jointly reviewed by the Joint Planning Commission, which consists of members of both governments’ separate boards. The city, he says, wants to make sure growth in the county is consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan. Likewise, the county wants to ensure that the city’s land use plans don’t encroach on areas it deems as rural.

The agreement puts various sections of land near the city limits into three tiers. According to the document, each tier is subject to various terms. Using a map to illustrate the tier areas has caused some responsible-growth proponents to wonder how dedicated the city is to controlling growth.

Renee Parsons, president of the Friends of Animas Valley, says she’s concerned that the city is setting up to annex hundreds of acres of land that will eventually degrade Durango’s quality.

“Our concern is that this (agreement) is a vehicle by which the city plans to expand to a population of 40,000 residents,” Parsons says.

Although intergovernmental agreements are a common occurrence among Colorado jurisdictions, FOAV sees the current city and county document as potentially enabling unrestricted growth. FOAV formed last year in the wake of the proposed – and now defunct – River Trails Ranch development in the Animas Valley, hoping to stop the project from gaining city approval. Upon River Trails’ defeat, Parsons said the group realized that it needed to do more work on garnering public demands on the city to pursue responsible growth. The group bandied about a ballot initiative, which would require voter approval of city annexations.

“We realized our work wasn’t going to be over,” Parsons says. “We wanted to do more. This IGA didn’t spawn this initiative, but when it surfaced, it solidified it.”

Parsons says she was surprised to see the tiered map because she understood that the city didn’t intend to annex land as far north and east as indicated. Hoch says the city never made any promises about where it would and would not annex land, especially given the long-standing notion that the city inevitably will grow to accommodate population bursts. Yet Parsons and members of FOAV aren’t willing to accept that this intergovernmental agreement is just a means to guarantee joint planning.

“When the agreement says the intent of the parties is to ‘assist and encourage the city’s annexation of all properties that are identified’ on the map, the language says it all. It’s very clear what the city’s intent is,” says Parsons.

Hoch says that land next to the city may still be developed regardless of annexation; it just depends on who develops it.

“If the city doesn’t, the county will,” he explains. “For people to think that there won’t be development if the city doesn’t annex, they are fooling themselves.” 4

Parsons doesn’t believe anyone is a fool. Instead, she and other FOAV members fear the agreement is writing on the wall because the city “hasn’t controlled growth.”

“If the city wants to extend water and sewer service to places that don’t border the city limits, it seems once they do that it will be irresistible for them to annex,” she says.

Parsons also adds that FOAV sees this as a way for the city to expand without resistance from the county, because, according to state law, the county cannot prevent the city from annexing land.

But County Commissioner Josh Joswick says that while this is true, the agreement benefits the city and county; it isn’t there just so the city can find avenues to grow unfettered.

“It’s as much a document for how land outside the city would develop as it is a means for allowing annexation,” he says. “The city’s development standards can be applied to those areas, and the county benefits because those properties would be built to a city standard.”

Hoch says that the city has extended water and sewer service to areas outside the city limits, but it’s because the city was either asked to provide it or the city wants to have consistent public utility standards for the future.

When it comes to these types of agreements, Joswick says the caveat for the city is that it can’t require the county to adhere to the city’s development standards without some indication of annexation. Essentially, the city can only work with the county government with some sort of annexation preparation – whether it happens or not.

Consequently, Joswick says it’s important for the city and county to consent to everything in the IGA. He expects more discussions between the governments before the agreement is finalized. In the process, City Council and the County Board of Commissioners will accept public comment on it.

“In theory, this is a great ‘I do,’” says Joswick. “It’s an attempt to make some sense of what’s happening in terms of development. The devil is in the details, of course.”







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