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Wanted: New P&Z members

Jeremy Heiman

Two people will be appointed to the county Planning and Zoning Commission today – and not a moment too soon.The commission has been unable to conduct much business in recent months because of a lack of members, caused by people retiring, quitting and simply not showing up at meetings. As a result, the work load is piling up.A minimum of three commissioners is required to conduct official business, yet the board has run into great difficulty getting a quorum at recent meetings. Membership on the volunteer commission is now down to five.The P&Z board was in similar straits as recently as the spring of 1999. And today’s appointments may not signal the end of the problem, because the terms of two more members expire in March.The P&Z reviews development applications and makes recommendations to the Pitkin County Commissioners. The commission is also charged with creating and amending master plans governing development in the county.The legislation that established the board does not require a specific number of members, indicating only that there should be “not less than three and not more than nine members.” A full complement of commissioners, though, is considered to be five regulars and two alternates.With the commissioners facing a full slate of contentious land-use issues, a roster of five has proven to be too limited.”A couple of weeks ago, I came over from Redstone for a meeting and I was the only one there,” said P&Z Chairman Peter Martin. Also standing around waiting for the meeting to begin were expensive land-use lawyers, planners and county staffers.Lance Clarke, the county’s deputy planning director, said meetings have been canceled three times in recent months because of the lack of a quorum. Two were regularly-scheduled meetings and one was a makeup for a meeting that was canceled.”Fortunately, there haven’t been any where time was of the essence,” Clarke said.If attendance at meetings doesn’t improve, however, time may soon become a real problem.”We’re getting backed up on our business,” said P&Z commissioner Peter Thomas. “Every time a meeting is called off, the applicant has to come back to a later meeting.” Then, other issues scheduled for that meeting may be put off.Three P&Z commissioners have resigned this year. And it’s not clear whether the two whose terms will expire in spring, Steve Whipple and Sheri Sanzone, will reapply.Planning commissioner Chris Cox, who is leaving town, resigned last Friday. Commissioner Gayle Embrey resigned July 27.Planning commissioner Charlie Tarver was a casualty of the growth management process. He quit in disgust in late May when the county commissioners voted 4-0 to drop the so-called “fair share” provisions from the new growth management package. The fair share legislation would have assessed new fees on large home construction to help pay for employee housing.Thomas noted that P&Z commissioners are volunteers, and sometimes they are out of town or have conflicts.”We’re just trying to fill our board up so we have enough people to do our job,” Thomas said. “We need a full slate of members to ensure that we can have enough people to conduct meetings.”Also, it’s desirable to have more than a minimum quorum at the meetings, because a decision made by a board of five is more credible than a decision made by a board of three, said County Commissioner Patti Clapper, a former P&Z member.Though P&Z commissioners are volunteers, not just anyone is qualified to sit on the board.”We need people who know something about land-use law or who are willing to learn,” he said.Martin said he thinks recent participation by the remaining members of the P&Z may be down because of burnout.”I think the growth management legislation and the moratorium kind of wore people out,” he said. P&Z meetings were held as often as twice a week during that period.”We think there was just too much going on in the last year or so,” Clapper agreed. “There’s been an overwhelming amount of work.”Through the end of November, the board had 25 regularly-scheduled meetings during the year, with a number of growth management meetings on top of that, Clarke said.”It is a lot of hard work, but it’s where the action is,” Martin said. “Land-use issues are the most important issues facing the county these days.”


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