El Paso County’s new master plan nears completion

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El Paso County residents can soon review and comment on a proposed master plan expected to guide local development for 20 years as the county prepares to pack in another 200,000 people.

The plan is in its final steps of completion after roughly two years of work, El Paso County Planning and Community Development Director Craig Dossey and representatives from design firm Houseal-Lavigne Associates told the Master Plan Advisory Committee Thursday. County officials are expected to complete their review of the proposal by Monday before the advisory committee evaluates a revised version of the plan in early February.

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Members of a liaison group who attended previous meetings to discuss the master plan will also receive a draft before it is made public, Dossey said. He said the liaison group was disbanded at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic because meeting on a regional scale was rendered “impossible.”

Once the plan is revised to include staff and committee comments, the county will release the revised plan to residents for review in March. The advisory committee could make changes to the plan based on public feedback, Houseal-Lavigne cofounder and urban planner John Houseal said.

The completed plan is expected to be adopted in May, said Sean Tapia, a planner with Houseal-Lavigne.

In late February, a video providing more information on the master plan and what it means for residents will be posted to the Planning and Community Department’s EPC Engage webpage, Dossey said.

“The video is just recognizing that this is a lot,” Dossey said. “… We want to bring it down to a human level so it’s consumable by the general public.”

The nearly 140-page draft plan will be 14 chapters long, outlining what planners called its “key components,” including a vision for the community, land use, housing and communities, economic development, transportation and mobility, community facilities, infrastructure, military installations, recreation and tourism, community health, environment, resiliency, and hazard mitigation.

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“There are a lot of graphics, a lot of photographs, a lot of text (and a) lot of tables,” Houseal said. “… It covers a really wide range of topics in the county.”

Thirteen of its chapters are drafted, Houseal said. The final chapter, which will outline all recommendations across each category in a “matrix-style” format, will be drafted after staff and the advisory committee have reviewed and vetted each recommendation in the document.

The master plan is an advisory text that will guide the county planning commission, board of commissioners and other county staff when they evaluate land development applications, Dossey and Houseal said.

“It is not a deciding factor. It is not regulation, but it’s meant to be sort of a long-play to help guide incremental decision making,” Houseal said.

The county needs to prepare for growth because its population is expected to grow from around 720,400 residents to more than 953,000 in 2040, data from the Colorado Demography Office show.

The master plan could affect other master planning across the county, Dossey said.

“Even though it’s advisory, that’s not to say that it doesn’t have teeth,” he said. “… It has impacts in so many places and so many different ways moving forward, not just with our department, but with other departments as well as outside entities like (Colorado Springs). We’ve identified areas of growth. Development conceivably could occur in the county and then get annexed into the city. What we show in terms of density and change I think necessarily has to impact how the municipalities are also looking at growth.”

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To follow the El Paso County Master Plan process, visit elpaso-hlplanning.hub.arcgis.com. For more on the Planning and Community Development Department’s EPC Engage initiative, visit planningdevelopment.elpasoco.com/epcengage.