The work has just begun

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Land-use planning, including zoning, contributes a good deal to preserving our liberty and pursuit of happiness (to borrow from a nicely turned phrase).

But at the very crowded Cortez City Council meeting last month, folks turned out in droves to express (to some degree, at least) the opposite view – that local government designating property uses and structures’ sizes and appearance strikes at the very soul of personal freedom.

Good land-use plans and zoning regulations are based on the principle that there’s a place for most everything, and are intended to keep those uses in their best place.

Of course, it’s certainly possible for regulations to go too far. That was the concern of most of the folks who spoke at the meeting, many of whom had specific, well-researched complaints about Cortez’s new, proposed land-use plan.

The plan was unanimously rejected by the council after they heard hours of testimony against it.

Now there is talk of forming a citizens’ committee to help with crafting a new plan. Some of the critics who spoke even volunteered to serve on such a group, which is great. Because dedicated people will be needed.

Let’s face it. Picking apart and objecting to an already written document is the easy part. Creating a new one will be a grueling task, particularly if the goal is to write it from scratch somehow, as former County Commissioner Kent Lindsay seemed to recommend. His story about how the county commissioners rejected a draft plan and wrote another by sitting down at the table themselves is true, but remember, the commissioners and their staff earn a lot more money than the $400 a month that members of city council do. It might be a bit much to expect councilors to spend hours and hours over months and months producing a new plan. They’re still going to need help from professional planners.

The people who did their research and voiced their concerns at the city meeting deserve great credit. The meeting remained generally civil in tone, despite some nasty rhetoric, and ended on a fairly upbeat note. The council members also deserve accolades for listening to the citizens – not just at the recent meeting, but back in October, when it would have been easy for the council to approve the already-written plan, which was up for consideration. Instead, the board listened to a few people who begged for more time to review it. Let’s give them credit for that.

Did the new plan go too far? It’s clear that it did, at least in parts. Cortez has always been a hardscrabble city. There are legitimate concerns about imposing too many regulations about roof pitches and day-care parking and the way carports have to look, and so on. Our residents have to be able to afford to live here.

But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, as has been said. Getting rid of all land-use regulations and making everything a free-for-all, which some folks advocated, would lead to an endless stream of phone calls to the city police, with residents complaining about dog kennels next door and producing a cacophony of noise, and neighbors operating businesses that take up all the parking along the streets.

“We don’t want government telling us what we can and can’t do with our little slice of Heaven,” seemed to be a popular sentiment.

But what happens to your slice when your neighbor decides to build a machine shop or honky-tonk bar in the midst of your formerly tranquil residential neighborhood, where traffic was limited mostly to the people who live there, and the occasional noises you heard didn’t come from grinding metal or a cranked-up metal band?

What happens to your house’s climbing property value that was one of your retirement resources?

People who have lot sizes of three acres or more can have a little more latitude than people jam-packed together. And folks who move into a city generally want more regulations, within reason, than those who live in the county. They may not want to be regulated like people living in California, but they generally don’t expect their city plots to be little fiefdoms, either.

At any rate, the new council will have a formidable task in sorting all this out. Good luck to whoever wins the races in April.

Remember, the easy part is over. The real work has just begun.

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