County to look at policies that may be impediment to business

January 17, 2011

El Paso County Commission Chairwoman Amy Lathen, a Republican, and newly sworn-in Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, have something in common: neither wants government to impede business development.

“We need to be about improving the business climate and getting out of the way and making sure businesses can thrive,” Lathen said Friday, a day after Hickenlooper told the General Assembly that he wants bills examined for possible negative effects on the business community.  

Lathen’s push for El Paso County to be more business friendly started last fall, when she was talking with staff from the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. A group to study barriers to business convened in October.

About 15 volunteers, representing small businesses, large corporations, developers, neighborhood organizations and other interests, have been meeting since then to hash over the county’s 670-page land development code. Members will make revision recommendations to county commissioners later this year. The document sets guidelines and policies for starting a business, expanding an existing business or developing land or property in unincorporated El Paso County.

Lathen said in her three years on the board, she’s heard numerous complaints and frustrations about the development code, which took effect in 2005 and exists to protect public health, safety and welfare as it pertains to economic development.

“Because of the bureaucratic process, I’ve watched commercial developments go out of business because of the constant delays and the process,” she said. “I do not want this county to be an impediment to business. Now is the time to ask, ‘Is it working?’ Some of it is, but a lot of it isn’t.”

Stephannie Finley, president of governmental affairs and public policy for the chamber, said the system isn’t broken, but could stand to be tweaked.

“There seem to be unintended consequences of the code … things that defy common sense and may be harmful to business,” she said.

For example, Finley said, wait times for approvals are often too long for start-up businesses, and the amount of paperwork can be unwieldy.

“If someone wanted to build a new bank, there are delays in getting permits and sign-offs on code requirements to move forward,” she said.

And time equals money, said Tim Siebert, a Barriers to Business committee member and owner of N.E.S. Inc., a land development and consulting company.  

“Some of our goals are to streamline the process, eliminate redundancy and simplify the code for the end user,” he said. “Our hope is that efficiency for the end user is also efficiency for the staff. We’d like to create a better working document for everybody.”

Finley commends county officials for being willing to refine the regulations.

“It’s one thing to talk about job creation and the economy, and it’s another thing to do something about it. This hands-on work gives action to words,” she said.

The next Barriers to Business meeting is 10 a.m. Wednesday at Pikes Peak Regional Development Center, 2880 International Circle. Meetings are open to the public. For more information, contact Stephannie Finley at the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, 575-4331.

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