County develops a potential for problems
We’re no fans of strict and stubborn bureaucratic adherence to regulatory verbiage, especially when special circumstances make it clear the regulations don’t quite fit. However, Mesa County’s recent moves to loosen its regulations related to land development are cause for concern.
To put it bluntly, if there are not firm rules that every developer must follow, and if there is less public scrutiny of the decision-making process for development applications, the possibility of influence peddling and decisions based on favoritism rises considerably.
This isn’t meant to accuse the current county commissioners or any county staff members of basing development decisions on favoritism. But we believe the move to make development rules less firm, combined with reduced public involvement in the development process, makes it more likely that sort of thing could occur in the future.
The changes in question have occurred over the past few months. First, the commissioners approved an amendment to the development code that eliminated public hearings in front of the county planning commission and the county commissioners for major subdivisions in some circumstances and allowed them to be reviewed and approved administratively.
This week, Commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland adopted a change that authorizes the commissioners and planning staff to approve development applications even if they don’t meet the requirements listed in the development code. The change requires that there be unique circumstances and that certain other criteria are met.
Commissioner Steve Acquafresca voted against the change. As he noted, the commissioners already have the ability to approve developments that don’t meet the criteria. They have done so in the past. The latest change delegates some of that important discretion to county planning staff.
So, more latitude for county staff to approve developments that don’t meet all of the code requirements, and less public scrutiny through the public-hearing process. That sounds like a system in which developers will have a greater incentive than ever to try to influence the decisions of the planning staff by whatever means possible.