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Thu, April 09

County officials <br>worry about <br>general plan deadline

County officials are wondering how they can possibly revise their 26-year-old general plan by the end of this year.

The state's Growing Smarter law set that deadline for counties to revise their general growth management plans. Only two counties, Maricopa and Pima, have made headway.

Yavapai County, like the others, hasn't even started working on its revision.

It's imperative to update the plan, not only because of the deadline, but also because it's so outdated, according to planning and zoning commissioners and county supervisors who have been talking about it for a few years now.

New Development Services Director Ken Spedding said he finds it disturbing that the county hasn't started work on the plan. He has appointed planner Susan Bronson to start working on it, and wants the supervisors to hire consultants June 4 to help.

Having a new general plan would be extremely helpful to the planning commission's work, Commissioner Al Wood said.

"It's my opinion we do reactive planning and zoning," Wood said. "It's kind of frustrating for the zoning commission ... not to see what the big picture is.

"I feel we're working in kind of a vacuum without a general plan, without some guidance."

The lack of a useful general plan is one reason the planning commission meetings take so long, Supervisor Chip Davis said.

"Right now, we've been winging it" when trying to decide whether development proposals fit into the county's vision for growth, Davis said.

"We're so far down the tube right now that we're making rules at every meeting," Supervisor Lorna Street agreed.

The lack of a definition for major and minor general plan amendments also is causing problems at meetings, Deputy County Attorney Randy Schurr said. The county has to adopt those definitions immediately, he said; the state's deadline was August 2000.

This county has changed quite a bit during the past quarter century, said Dava Hoffman, whose company co-authored a consulting proposal with Community Sciences Corp. of Phoenix. They were the only ones to respond to the county's request for proposals for help with the new general plan.

"Yavapai County was a rural, ranching community when the general plan was done," Hoffman said. The new general plan will be a vehicle for figuring out what the county is today, she said, and what it wants to be in 10 years.

"The vision of Yavapai County has to be established by the people," she added. "And we have quite a variety of people here."

The state law requires land use, transportation and water sections in the general plan, said Richard Counts of Community Sciences.

It's not realistic to try to finish the entire plan by the end of this year, Hoffman said. The state has no penalty for missing the deadline.

The county has to try to finish something by the end of this year, said Schurr, noting he swore to uphold the law as a county official. Citizens could sue the county to speed up the process, he said, and developers seeking permits could argue the general plan has expired if a new one isn't ready by Dec. 31.

Delays also could fuel a return of the Citizens Growth Management Initiative to the Arizona ballot, Commissioner Tom Thurman and Supervisor Gheral Brownlow agreed. That initiative would require much more restrictive and detailed general plans.

Officials agreed they can at least finish a vision statement and goals.

Even that much work can have a profound effect on planning decisions, Schurr said. For example, the county could say that since it has insufficient information about water resources, it won't allow any increases in housing density unless a developer proves enough water is available, he said.

Some officials recounted horror stories about creating past community plans, and hoped they wouldn't have the same problems with the general plan.

"The reason we don't have more community plans such as in Williamson Valley is because some people are impossible to deal with," Commissioner Jacquie Weedon said.

The county has to make an extreme effort to inform the public about the process, said Commissioner Linda Bitner.

She was involved in the Dewey-Humboldt Community Plan, and after a half-year of work, some citizens showed up at the final meeting to say they didn't know anything about it, she recalled.

People in Ash Fork say they want a grocery store and a county water and sewer system, and those aren't realistic things for a community of fewer than 500 residents, Brownlow said.

"So this isn't going to be an easy thing in rural Yavapai County," he predicted.

Putting information on the county's Web page will help inform those who don't have time to come to meetings, Spedding said.

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