By Mark Esper
A couple dozen residents were on hand Wednesday night, July 29, to help launch the effort to draft a new master plan for Silverton and San Juan County.
And consultants for the project put them to work right away, having them fill in some gaps in the county’s history and having them mull over the lessons that history teaches us about Silverton and San Juan County.
RPI Consulting of Durango has been hired by the town and county to draft the document. The contract is not to exceed $50,000.
Town/County Planning Director Adam Sickmiller said the 10-year old master plan is in need of a rewrite.
He said the document is “critical for the town and county so we can go forward with a single vision.”
RPI Consulting was chosen from among 20 consultants submitting proposals.
Andrew Klotz, managing director of RPI, said public meetings scheduled for Town Hall on Aug. 18 and Sept. 3 will be “particularly important.”
He said public input is needed in establishing a community vision. The Aug. 18 (5:30-8:30 p.m.) meeting will be for citizens to discuss concerns for the future, things the community would like to save and things the community would like to change.
The Sept. 3 (6-8 p.m.) meeting will be a chance for the public to review a draft vision statement to be incorporated into the master plan.
Klotz said his firm plans to move through the process of developing the master plan relatively quickly, to keep momentum going.
He said the idea behind a community master plan — aside from it being required under state law, is “to define a shared vision for the future, set goals, and chart strategies that can be implemented.”
“We believe a community can make positive choices and informed decisions, and control — or least influence — the future,” he said.
He said the plan is designed to cover a 20- to 30-year timeframe for the town and county, providing “general guidance for where and how growth and resources can be managed.”
He said chapters in the document are likely to go over economic vitality, healthy environment, transportation and core infrastructure, community capacity and town infill and expansion.
And he said there really is a point to it all.
“A properly done master plan is an important and practical day-to-day use document, actually,” Klotz insisted.
Community Planner Gabe Preston, Klotz’s partner at RPI Consulting, warned against focusing too much on immediate issues such as the economic recession.
“What I’ve seen go wrong in a lot of towns and counties is that the process will get sort of usurped by narrow goals or the problems of the day,” Preston said.
Preston said “it’s important to start at the beginning of this thing. I’m going to be kind of a stickler for following this path.”
That path starts by developing a vision statement.
“We hope to wrap that up in September,” Preston said. “We want to think about what we’re doing.”
He said the draft vision statement will be available for the Sept. 3 meeting.
“We’re not going to do a draft and turn it into Adam (Sickmiller). We’re going to turn it in to you,” Preston said.
He said the next step will be to form a 15-member working group “that is going to be with us all the way through this process.”
The group’s meetings will be open to the public, he said.
Preston said one of the more important components of the master plan will be the land-use plan, which he described as “the most physical” portion of the document.
And he said RPI Consulting hopes to have a final master plan delivered to the town and county by late winter.
“We’re big advocates of clipping along with master plans,” Preston said. “We’ve seen a lot get bogged down.”
And he said his firm’s work will always be open to criticism.
“We want to know the good, the bad and the ugliness,” Preston said. “Just tell us. We can take it.”
At the introductory meeting on the master plan process last week, the two dozen or so citizens were split into three groups and asked to list some of the lessons that the history of Silverton and San Juan County teaches us.
Among the ideas that emerged:
• Be prepared for change.
• Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
• The town is not feasible without grants.