Eagle County considers comprehensive rewrite for existing land use rules
EAGLE — One of the hallmarks of living in a civilized society is we have rules. When it comes to modern civilization, we are all well aware that we are governed by many, many regulations.
Eagle County’s Land Use Regulations are a prime example. The rules governing development in the county are a written labyrinth that can be contradictory and confusing.
But the great thing about rules is they can be changed, and that’s exactly what Eagle County is contemplating.
On Tuesday, Oct. 24, representatives from a company called Clarion will present its initial assessment of the county’s existing land-use regulations. Clarion launched a study of the county’s regulations in June.
“This process came about based on the county commissioners’ direction,” said Kris Widlak, Eagle County director of communications. “It was absolutely something they wanted to see accomplished.”
The Clarion report delineates the issues that prompted the Commissioners to launch the review.
“The current land-use regulations have not been comprehensively revised for decades. They have been updated many times on an as-needed basis, which has introduced important new provisions (such as new lighting standards and hillside development protections) but also created inconsistencies and a piecemeal organization that can be cumbersome for users to understand and for county officials to administer and enforce,” notes the Clarion report
But beyond confusion, Clarion’s examination of the existing regulations revealed that the rules are getting in the way of accomplishing county objectives.
“The land-use regulations have come to be seen by many as an obstacle to positive new development, and so, not surprisingly, the county has increasingly turned to the planned unit development tool in order to bypass much of the land-use regulations for many new projects,” the Clarion report notes.
Eagle County Director of Community Development Damian Peduto offered his own analogy for the county’s land use regulations concerns.
“It is like a machine, and sometimes the machine doesn’t operate effectively and you have to modify it,” he said.
For the average resident of Eagle County, these issues matter because they impact daily life in the neighborhoods where we live and work, Peduto said.
“There are uniformity issues and conformity issues. There are standards that need to be applied, and there are clarity issues. The goal is really not that complicated. The county’s processes need to function effectively,” Peduto said.
Planned unit Development
There is an existing work-around to the county’s cumbersome land-use regulations — the planned unit development process.
“The PUD process allows applicants and the county to negotiate site-specific standards and conditions that do not necessarily comply with all aspects of the land use regulations,” the Clarion report said. “They also offer the potential for more development being approved than might be possible under straight zoning.”
Clarion notes that the PUD process has become the development review norm in Eagle County. But overuse of the PUD process can create practical difficulties. For developers, over reliance on the PUD process means unpredictability because the rules are written on a case-by-case bases. It can also increase the time it takes for approval and increases development costs.
For neighbors of PUD proposals, it means they cannot rely on existing zoning standards for protection and they have little certainty about the unpredictable potential impacts of each new project. In short, every proposed development begets its own review battle.
PUD proposals also mean that the county planning staff must devote substantial time to negotiate PUD provisions up front. Then, after a development is approved, there is the issue of enforcing those negotiated provisions on the numerous PUD projects countywide.
“While the flexibility of PUDs is appreciated, many stakeholders say that PUDs have been overused and have not always resulted in better-quality projects,” the Clarion report said.
Key areas for improvement
Along with the PUD concerns, Clarion has cited six other key areas for improvement regarding the county’s land use regulations:
• Streamline other development review procedures
• Update the zoning districts to implement Eagle County plans
• Enhance the land use regulations
• Improve and tailor the development standards
• Create more user-friendly land use regulations
• Revisit Eagle County’s plans and other supporting materials
Clarion’s work to date has detailed the issues. Now, the county has to decide how to tackle them.
During its scheduled Tuesday, Oct. 24, discussion of the Clarion report, the Eagle County Commissioners will consider their next steps. Generally there are three options: Reorganize and reformat the existing regulations, make targeted amendments to the existing plans, or embark on a comprehensive rewrite of the county’s regulations. That final option would likely take between two and three years to complete. In the more immediate future, the company has suggested an inclusive public-outreach effort to help identify a working plan to move forward.
The Eagle County Commissioners will discuss the Clarion report during its regular public meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 24, beginning at 1:30 p.m. at the Eagle County meeting room.