OPINION: Moratorium on all specific development?

JOANN KALENAK, DCCR SENIOR BLOGGER — At a recent Delta County Planning Commission (PC) meeting, members voted 8-to-1 to approve a gravel pit next to a county gem – Confluence Park. About halfway through the discussions, the news broke that at least three families living adjacent to the proposed gravel pit had not received notification of the proposal or when the PC planned to hear the application (residents heard about the meeting through social media).

Hold the phone, I thought as I sat listening to a myriad of issues that would – or could – arise from putting a mining operation in the middle of town and next to one of the best community parks in the area. Notification of near-by neighbors is a no-brainer and a specific development requirement. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to appreciate the concept.

The proceedings should have stopped right there and one PC member knew it.

Tom Kay was the only dissenting vote on the grounds that the neighbors had not been duly involved in the process. Good for Tom.

What about the other PC members? Angela Mackey, PC chair, intimated that she doubted that the neighbors had not received notice and Kim Shay cited the printed notification in the DCI, as though it was enough.

Several PC members posed questions to planning staff present at the meeting and voiced concerns about the notice failure. Elyse Casselberry, head of Delta County’s planning department, responded that she wouldn’t know what went wrong until she and staff had had a chance to review the automated list generated for the application. (Investigation the following day revealed that planning had used an incorrect address to identify the 1,000-foot notification zone and only 5 notices were sent. Thirty-one parcels belonging to 18 separate owners were later identified.)

So, someone goofed in planning. It happens.

That’s not the real problem, though. The real problem is that neither Casselberry nor Kelly Yeager, the county’s highly paid planner, seemed to take the issue seriously and, during the three-hour meeting, made no effort to investigate the notification question. Regulations say that “Substantial compliance is required with respect to this notification provision; minor oversights, errors or omissions shall not be considered grounds for nullifying the specific development review process.” Later investigation revealed that “substantial compliance” had not occurred.

While Planning Commissioners hold ultimate accountability for not tabling the application when they learned that they might be out of compliance, paid staff should have stepped up without a moment’s hesitation since they are present to advise and guide the Planning Commissioners on required elements of a specific development.

Now, the Planning Commissioner’s decision has been nullified and they will re-hear the application (date to be determined) as a result of the entire debacle. This has never happened in the sixteen-plus years that I have lived in Delta County.

Is the Planning Commission and county planning department just going through the motions in anticipation of new land use regulations?

If so, why not put a moratorium on all specific development until the new regs are in place – especially those developments with far-reaching impacts like a 50-year gravel pit in downtown Delta?