September 2013

Thanks to the county's planning commission

When Montezuma County held a public hearing Aug. 20 to gather input about possible changes to the Dolores River Valley Plan, it drew close to a hundred people into the Dolores Community Center.

The vast majority obviously had strong views about different elements of the plan, though there seemed to be some confusion regarding the purpose of the meeting. A few folks seemed not quite to grasp that the plan had been in place a decade and the meeting was to discuss proposed changes that would ease some of its restrictions. Many apparently held the misconception that the Planning and Zoning Commission, which was holding the meeting, was responsible for the plan and would ultimately decide on its fate, and therefore took out their ire on board members.

Some of the speakers seemed less interested in discussing the specific changes being proposed than in venting their spleen about government regulations or speaking broadly about river protection. Some insisted on trying to argue with people who voiced opinions contrary to theirs, even though everyone was supposed to address the planning commission, not individuals in the audience.

Given the thankless task of moderating this meeting was Planning Commission Chair Dennis Atwater, a member of that body since 2007. He kept the two-hour event under control despite the rather volatile crowd. He was calm, authoritative, articulate, and even-handed, treating every speaker with the same patience and courtesy no matter what his or her view might be.

Sometimes Atwater spoke to provide information of his own, but never with the attitude of, “Listen up, you fool, I know more than you do.” His comments were helpful and intelligent without being snide or condescending.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of such a moderator at public hearings, someone who listens respectfully to everyone, who understands that many citizens aren’t used to speaking in public and encourages them rather than arguing with them or cutting them off.

Maybe there’s something about the Planning Commission that nurtures such leaders, because when Jon Callender was chair, he was also outstanding. (We didn’t witness Tim Hunter, who served between Callender and Atwater, in action, so our omission of him is only out of ignorance.) At any rate, we’re grateful to Atwater for his performance that night.

And we’re very appreciative of the county planning commission as a whole. Over the years, the vast majority of its members have been hardworking and dedicated. This is a group that wades through tedious paperwork, labors to understand sometimes-complicated rules, tries to help citizens find the best and easiest ways to develop their property, and works to improve the county’s land-use code and comprehensive plan. The members are paid nothing for their hours of toil, and rarely receive any thanks. They have no authority and their advice can be completely ignored by the county commissioners. Serving on the board has to be frustrating at times, yet they persevere.

People like this help to make the community a better place to live.