AZTEC — Since 2009, San Juan County paid consulting firms more than $350,000 to help write a land use code that commissioners have chosen not to vote on.
The San Juan County Commission unanimously voted last week to indefinitely table the proposed code. The code, which would have established zoning rules and regulations for future development in unincorporated parts of the county, won't be considered unless commissioners vote to take it up again.
Commissioners and county officials said the money paid to consultants wasn't wasted because the tabled code will have value when the county selects specific elements and proposes them as ordinances.
In June of 2009, the county contracted with Sites Southwest, an Albuquerque consulting firm, for their help in crafting the county's land use plans and zoning regulation maps, according to county documents. The code included land use plans and zoning regulation maps for unincorporated areas.
Since July 2009, San Juan County has paid Sites Southwest and two subcontracted consulting firms $358,000, according to county documents.
Duncan Associates and Foresee Consulting were the subcontractors.
Commissioner Jack Fortner said the majority of his constituents and several developers are against the widespread changes that would have followed the passage of the 171-page code.
But County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said citizen surveys show more people are in favor of the code than against it.
"This is a citizen driven code. The county didn't take the initiative and decide to look into this," Carpenter said. "In many ways there are far more people who want to see this happen than don't want to see this happen. But if you are a silent majority and you are not out, then the powerful influence of the anti-land-development-code population is going to be heard."
Commissioner Margaret McDaniel said about 90 percent of the people in her district were against the code.
In August, all five county commissioners voted in favor of a notice of intent to adopt the ordinance. Then, last week, all five voted to table the measure.
"Obviously all the commission had concern about passing it as a total package," Commission Chairman Scott Eckstein said. "We want to strike a balance that the majority of citizens can get behind."
County Operations Office Mike Stark said the land use code was the culmination of the work Sites Southwest was hired to create.
Carpenter said land use will continue to be a priority for county government.
"All of it is very valuable information. Everything from the community meetings to the surveys, it's very valuable information that we need to look at," Carpenter said. "This is always going to be at the forefront of what we do in San Juan County."
Commissioners said developing the code will not be a waste of time and money. Eckstein said it will serve as a "blueprint" for the future. "Maybe what we need to look at (is) passing ordinances for specific concerns rather than one large ordinance," Commissioner Keith Johns said.
Carpenter said county staff, if directed by the commission, will take aspects of the land use code and turn them into specific ordinances that can go before the commission.
"Why throw away a whole bushel of bananas because one of them is spoiled? There are some areas that I think the commission has concerns in. By no means is there the intent of just throwing it all away," Carpenter said. "I've always touted it -- if you want to eat a whole stick of licorice, you got to take a bite first."
Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.