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Master plan process begins with dreaming

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Groups were asked to envision what kinds of stories the newspaper will run in the year 2032, after this master plan has been successfully implemented. Photo by Kami Collins

Delta County has jumped into the master planning process with the first of five community meetings aimed at discovering what is important to residents, and how and where we want to grow in the years to come. Over 75 people crowded into the Paonia Town Hall on Monday night to participate in a visioning and dreaming exercise, answering questions that will help the consulting team craft a master plan that reflects the values and desires of Delta County residents.

Gabe Preston with RPI Consulting led the visioning process. RPI is based in Durango, and is the firm selected to lead the county in the master plan update process. The firm specializes in helping small, rural communities in projects like this. An entire team will be working with Delta County throughout this process, including a land use code expert who will provide an assessment of existing regulations and how they relate to the master plan. The expert will provide some suggestions on how the master plan can be implemented as land use code.

Once complete, the master plan will provide an overall vision for the county and will outline how things like housing, business/industry, infrastructure and transportation support and complement the economy, health and welfare, environment and quality of life. "It's a big picture plan where the endgame is to develop overall broad policies that guide us in land use policies," Preston explained. "We want to solidify the vision for Delta County in such a way that it has some durability, so that the day issues that come up can be reviewed in context in this broader vision."

The county has not updated its master plan since 1996. "This is a big deal," Preston said. "We really want to try to ferret out the values of the community. This is how we're going to begin to develop the vision for the future, what we care about and what we're concerned about."

To get to those answers, Preston led the group in several exercises. In small groups, citizens began by sharing their personal stories, describing what they love about living here and what is most important to them, the characteristics that describe the community, their concerns and their hopes for the community. Those stories were then shared with the larger group to see if there were broad commonalities and concerns among residents.

Another exercise asked each group to create an issue of the Delta County Independent to publish on May 23, 2032, 15 years in the future, after the master plan has been adopted and has guided some of the future growth and development and the outcomes that could result.

In Paonia, meeting attendees shared many of the same commonalities and concerns. The group voiced concern about oil and gas development in the North Fork, and talked about protecting the small rural identity of the county. Maintaining the agricultural way of life, organic farming, agritourism, clean air and water, and public access to recreation and open space were priorities for almost every group that shared. Shared concerns included the economy, poverty, potential loss of healthcare or hospital, and the difficulties our schools are facing with declining enrollment.

"We all made a conscious decision to move here because of what it has to offer," one participant said. "There is hope that emerges from this community, from the diversity of people and their talents. People moved here because they wanted to create a community that is different and that is also communal. This is worth preserving, and it's okay to be different."

As another participant put it, "We don't want any big changes."

There are more opportunities for residents to make sure their voice is heard. Cedaredge hosts a meeting tonight; Crawford on May 18; Hotchkiss on May 22; and Delta on May 23. All meetings are from 6-8 p.m., with property owner drop in discussion times from 3-5 p.m. on the same evening. An online survey will also be available at DeltaCountyPlan.com.

The consulting team has also interviewed about 20 individuals representing a broad array of interests in the county, so the team could get a feel for the community before the visioning workshops, Preston explained. Groups and organizations will be invited to listening sessions, and several web-based surveys will be available in a few weeks to further define overall visions and goals for the county.

"We have a pretty long road ahead of us," Preston said. After the visioning workshops are complete, the RPI team will present a compilation of the results to the planning commission at its June 14 meeting. After that, the team will prepare a suitability assessment and map out areas of future development by assessing existing development, infrastructure, natural resources and hazards, transportation systems, and others - essentially mapping the community's vision and goals. Preston stressed that the maps are not zoning maps, but policy guidelines. The team hopes to have a draft master plan ready by late fall/early winter.

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