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San Juan County replacing current planners with outside firm

For more than two decades, staff and citizens have asked San Juan County Council to order a comprehensive review and rewrite/edit of the county's Uniform Development Code (UDC). The code is used when processing land use permits. Pieces of the UDC have been amended over the years, but a comprehensive update of the entire Title 18 code to provide uniformity and eliminate redundancies has not been done. The county's code is notorious for containing sections that are either incompatible or incomprehensible resulting in slow processing of land use permits. 

On July 9, 2024, the county revealed it is undertaking a multi-prong approach to improving Department of Community Development (DCD) services. One step is updating the UDC. The Prosecutor's office, in an effort to make the code clearer, more user-friendly, and in line with current legislation, is working with a consultant to update the code, engage the public for feedback, and ultimately bring an updated version to Council for adoption. 

In the meantime, the County Council approved eliminating five positions in the land use division. The affected staff have been given a 10-day job separation notice and will be compensated with a tenure-based severance package.  

The county will contract out the services in the land use division. This will be the third outside firm the department uses. Two firms already review building plans and critical area reports.

The county will hire an additional code enforcement officer, planning manager, and land use permit technician.  These key positions will support the department as it strives to maintain building and land use standards across the county.  

“We’ve heard the community’s concerns and are taking steps to improve the department’s ability to review permit requests in a timely and consistent manner,” said Council Chair Jane Fuller on behalf of the County Council.  

DCD staff will continue to interface with the public on land use applications. The firm will review application materials based on San Juan County Code and provide findings to staff.  

“This is not an outside firm making decisions about development in the islands,” said Interim DCD Director Mark Tompkins. “County staff will stay involved in the permitting process, be there to answer questions from the public, and ensure that development is compliant with County code.”    

The department asks for the public’s patience during this transition. DCD will be working with the consultant to  get up to speed as quickly as possible, however, the change in review process will take some time to fully implement.  

Staff continue to update the DCD website to improve the user experience and to streamline the information gathering and application processes. Staff is expanding the SmartGov system to include all permits. This means users will have one portal through which they can access and track all their applications and permits.    

The County is committed to providing updates on how DCD is progressing toward addressing community concerns. DCD leadership will return to Council in three months to provide an update on permit review times, new position hires, and other initiatives.   

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