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Citizens look for common ground

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A series of community "visioning" sessions wrapped up last week, but Delta County continues to seek feedback as it moves forward with its master plan revision.

A community forum has been established on a website devoted to the yearlong revision, deltacountyplan.com. A number of residents have already responded to the county's invitation to "share what you love about Delta County and why, your concerns, and what hopes you have for the future."

The commonalities identified through the online forum and through the community meetings will be used to develop a survey that will "drill deeper" into the issues, explains Elyse Casselberry, Delta County community and economic development director. The survey will be available on the website, but Casselberry also plans to make the rounds with a laptop, or at least paper copies, to broaden response. She'll be visiting senior meal sites and community events, including Downtown DeltaFest and Celebrate Cedaredge.

The community meetings, which began in Paonia May 15 and ended in Delta May 23, drew 50 to 90 people in every community, Casselberry said. "The turnout was as good as we could have hoped and far more than we expected," she said. Every aspect of agriculture was well represented at each of the meetings, she said, from organic wineries to traditional ranching. Those who aren't directly involved in agriculture value the open space that agriculture provides for all to enjoy. The economic impact of agriculture, and the potential for growth through agritourism and "branding" Delta County was a topic of discussion countywide.

"Another common theme was how do we, as neighbors, work better together?" Casselberry said. "There was acknowledgement that's not been easy lately."

"We need to find a way to minimize conflict between land use," a participant commented in the Hotchkiss meeting. "Doing nothing hasn't really worked."

Balancing private property rights with protection for neighboring properties was recognized as a difficult goal, but one that must be attempted.

"That's one of the things I hope we'll dig into more," Casselberry said. "How do we deal with conflict when it arises more effectively?"

Across the board, everyone values our clean air, clean water and healthy, fertile soil; the small, friendly communities; access to public lands; and our water.

Although water rights fall under the jurisdiction of the state, "that doesn't mean we can't articulate our goals," Casselberry said. "Water rights are less in the county's control to address directly, but they're critical to the overall conversation." The same can be said for public lands policies.

Energy was one topic where common ground was a bit harder to find. "We heard the entire spectrum on that subject," Casselberry said.

Participants countywide would like to see more employment opportunities for younger families and individuals, to hopefully be able to retain and attract younger talent to the community. "That means jobs that are higher paying, and of course broadband came up, and the new future ahead of us in terms of providing opportunities," Casselberry said.

While some growth is vital to the economy, one Hotchkiss participant urged "common sense growth that doesn't detract from the things we value."

"We do not want growth with sacrifice," a Delta participant commented.

At the Crawford meeting, participants cautioned against attracting people who don't understand our rural, agricultural lifestyle, people who want to change "our unique place" into something resembling the place they left.

"The most valuable part of this process was seeing people of very opposing ideas or completely different generations sitting down at a table and talking and listening to each other," Casselberry said. "I hope we can remember that as a foundation moving forward. As we bring forward elements of the master plan, we will have to return to that ability to find common ground."

For two hours prior to each visioning session, the county and its master plan consultant hosted one-on-one discussions with property owners. "We wanted to provide an opportunity for property owners to very directly speak what's on their mind, since ultimately this plan will affect them," Casselberry said. Turnout for these "open conversations" averaged 25 to 30. "These discussions became not just a conversation between the property owner and the consultant team, but a conversation between property owners, as well," Casselberry said. "It was very informative to the process."

Between now and June 14, the consultant team will be working on extracting themes, before coming back to the Delta County Planning Commission with a "very rough draft" of a vision and set of goals for the master plan.

"The planning commission will discuss if we're heading in the right direction and provide feedback to the consultant team." With direction from the planning commission, the consultant team will put together recommendations for future land use regulations that will result in another round of public meetings, Casselberry said. The entire process is anticipated to take a year.

A master plan provides the overall vision for how the built environment -- infrastructure, housing, transportation, recreation, business and industry -- support and complement the other less tangible aspects of community -- the economy, health, the environment, and quality of life. The county's current master plan was adopted in 1996.

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