In 2019, El Paso County officials initiated a new master planning process, with the goal to replace the Black Forest Preservation Plan, the Falcon Comprehensive Plan, the Southwest Highway 115 Plan and several other long-standing small-area plans.
El Paso County Master Plan update
By Leslie Sheley
Mark Gebhart, deputy director at El Paso County Development Services, said most of the 10 small-area plans were outdated; plus, it would have been cost prohibitive to update them and create new plans for areas that did not have a plan.
“In addition, the individual plans had conflicting overlaps, did not recognize current jurisdictional boundaries, did not acknowledge current growth trends and did not cover the entire county,” Gebhart said. “The bottom line is there needed to be an overall land use plan that tied everything together.” He said they pursued an overall master plan based on information they collected from the Joint Land Use Study, Destination Master Planning, the Broadband Strategic Plan, the Regional Office of Emergency Management Plan and the El Paso County Major Transportation Corridor Plan.
The county hired Houseal Lavigne Associates as consultants for the project. HLA assigned a local outreach team in May 2019 to act as advocates for their particular areas during the planning process. The LOT members were Judy von Ahlefeldt, Black Forest; Kevin Curry, Falcon; Tom Fellows, Southwest Highway 115; and Tom Vierzbang, Tri-Lakes. “We had trouble finding anyone to volunteer in the Ute Pass, Security/Widefield, South Central, Eastern Plains, Calhan and Peyton areas,” Gebhart said. The goal of the outreach team was to facilitate workshops and meetings in the county to discuss the plan and keep people up to date on the process.
The team was discontinued in June. “In order to bolster our public input footprint, we ultimately had to turn to social media platforms such as Nextdoor and Facebook, which proved very effective during the initial public outreach effort,” he said. “Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been forced to further adapt our approach to public engagement for the later phases of the planning process.” The platforms they are using can be found at https://elpaso-hlplanning.hub.arcgis.com.
Kevin Curry, former member of the El Paso County Planning Commission, said, “From the outset, all the [now former] LOT (local outreach team) leads were frustrated by unclear expectations, lack of authority beyond attending meetings and lack of any materials in advance of meetings. It was my experience that neither the contractor, the steering committee, nor the Planning and Community Development Department have much interest in public input and suggestions.” He said many ideas were dismissed as being “area-myopic, self-serving, or ill-informed.”
Curry said updating the master plan is “long overdue.” He said the county should be “commended” for taking on the process. “Many of the draft changes are cutting edge ideas that have potential to make the plan a very useful tool moving forward. That said, the process hasn't been perfect.”
He said many factors have contributed to the absence of public input, including coronavirus concerns, a lack of public awareness and the master plan is a low priority for the public. Curry suggested the county redouble public outreach efforts using widely accessed media (e.g., Gazette, The New Falcon Herald, local television stations). “I would urge the public to get involved and weigh in early if possible. Waiting to testify at the planning commission’s approval meeting will be too late.”
As it stands, the public can get involved by participating in ongoing meetings; El Paso County Planning Commission and Board of County Commissioners meetings are streamed and televised as well as the Master Plan Advisory Committee meetings — the public can engage virtually at https://www.agendasuite.org/iip/elpaso. Gebhart encouraged the public to email them with questions or concerns by using the “Contact the Project Team” button at the bottom of the home page.
Gebhart said some of the comments they have heard from the public range from positive to no more building to preservation and protection of what exists to concerns for emergency services. Others noted that roadways and infrastructure need to be addressed before any further growth. Of course, water supply issues were cited as well.
Modifications to plans and documents have been made based on comments and concerns from the public, Gebhart said. Examples include a demographic analysis and an existing conditions report, modified after input from planners, an advisory committee and the BoCC. Another example is the Initial Place-type Mapping, modified after public comment from Terry Stokka regarding Cathedral Pines and La Foret.
Gebhart said the public can participate in the review of the upcoming drafts through the online advisory committee meetings. They will also develop a community engagement program once a draft of the master plan has been completed. The program will address changes to the public input process caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, while ensuring all community members are able to participate.
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More than 205 days have passed since the United States learned of COVID-19. The state of Colorado and El Paso County have experienced the full spectrum of life from before COVID-19 to stay-at-home orders from the governor.
COVID-19 effects in the area
By Mark Stoller
Currently, the state and county are in a less restrictive atmosphere where businesses can hire and operate, restaurants are open and residents can go about their lives as long as they have a mask.
To provide current statistics about the virus’ effect on county residents, El Paso County Public Health has created a website with a dashboard displaying nine different views of how the county is fairing. There are also numerous resources containing COVID-19 guidance for county residents and schools.
According to the Census Bureau, as of July 2019, El Paso County is home to 720,403 people. The county dashboard shows between the dates of March 1 and Sept. 21, there have been 97,383 (13.5%) COVID-19 tests administered; 6,754 (0.94%) positive cases; 568 (0.08%) hospitalizations; 6098 (90.3%) recoveries; and 170 (0.02%) deaths from the virus.
Another graphic on the El Paso County Public Health dashboard illustrates the impact of COVID-19 on the Black Forest, Latigo/Elbert, and Falcon/Peyton communities. As of Sept. 21:
|Black Forest||population: 17,807||tests: 2,457||cases: 136|
|Latigo/Elbert||population: 5,194||tests: 285||cases: 16|
|Falcon/Peyton||population:25,048||tests: 3,366||cases: 203|
The Centers for Disease Control has issued guidance purporting the age populations of 60 years and older are the most at risk and susceptible to COVID-19 due to pre-existing health conditions.
The data from the EPCPH dashboard tells a different story.
The county’s 20-to-29-year-old population has the highest number of positive cases. The number of positive cases decreases as the age groups increase in age.
From the county dashboard, as of September 21, the number of positive cases per age group are 0-9 years: 332; 10-19 years: 633; 20-29 years: 1655; 30-39 years: 1141; 40-49 years: 942; 50-59 years: 804; 60-69 years: 556; 70-79 years: 390; 80-89 years: 216; and 90+ years: 85.
To view the El Paso County Public Health dashboard, visit https:/elpasocountyhealth.org/covid19data-dashboard.com