Planning department facing work overload

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— After closing the door on major development permits for 90 days, the city planning department is about to open it again. And due in part to the potential impacts of Amendment 24, the department may not be ready for all the developers it will find behind that door.
"We're seeing an incredible influx of applications, I think because of Amendment 24," Planning Director Wendie Schulenberg said.
Schulenberg said the volume of applications is at least 400 percent higher than usual.
Developers are rushing to get their applications in before Coloradans vote on Amendment 24 this November. Applications in before Sept. 13 would be exempt from the ramifications of the amendment.
The amendment would force local governments to develop "Growth Area Maps" that they would have to present to voters. The growth area maps would include impact studies on parks and schools in addition to a number of other elements. Development in cities such as Steamboat could be severely curtailed.
"It's the smaller communities that it's going to hurt the most," said Jim Cook of Colorado Group Realty. "Denver created this amendment, and they're prepared for it."
The amendment, coupled with the planning department's inability to hire new employees, will make the end of this year a difficult one. The 90-day moratorium on major development permits is up Oct. 16, and with only one new staff member, the planning department is being pushed to its limit. Meanwhile, 15 developers have expressed interest in submitting development applications to the city.
"It's affected everyone," Cook said. "I understand why we did it here because of staffing problems. The workload is insurmountable. If a moratorium continues, though, it could really have an adverse impact on growing businesses."
Although Councilman Ken Brenner proposed extending the moratorium at a City Council goal-setting session on Sept. 5, the council has yet to discuss voting on an extension.
"The key element that's missing here is the completion of the Community Development Code," Brenner said. "The intent of the moratorium was to give the staff a chance to catch up. That hasn't happened because the workload has barely changed."
The code Brenner spoke of would reduce the planning department's workload by eliminating certain minor development permits from the Planning Commission process. The waiting list for minor development permits is 13 projects long, Schulenberg said.
The city instituted the moratorium on July 18 to address a personnel shortage in the city's planning department.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail asalzman@amigo.net

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