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August 21, 2014
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Decisions of consequence

Glenwood Springs leaders recently made a tough call on a big development proposed for the outskirts of town on the way to Sunlight.

The developers of Glenwood Ridge were seeking annexation into the city and the right to build 413 homes of various types and sizes over the next 20 years on 500-plus acres along Four Mile Road. They were also offering new ball fields and more than 1,100 acres of open space. It was in many respects an intriguing proposal.

The city’s planning commission and staff said, however, that the project would put too much strain on existing infrastructure and public services to garner their support. Both recommended denial, and the developers got cold feet and withdrew the application before it was heard by the City Council.

In doing so, they probably saved taxpayers a lot of expense and the community a fair bit of heartburn, and, given the nature of large, phased projects, they may well have saved themselves from bankruptcy.

Big developments change communities forever. Sometimes for better, often for worse. Look no further than three communities up the valley from Glenwood Springs — Aspen, Snowmass Village and Basalt — are all of which are grappling with major developments that resulted in big changes to their communities.

The poster child for development gone awry in the Roaring Fork Valley is Base Village. In 2004, Snowmass Village Town Council approved a project that promised 600 new condominiums and tens of thousands of square feet of new commercial space in multiple-story buildings spread across the bottom of the resort, from Fanny Hill to Assay Hill. Some of the promised community benefits included a cable car from the Village Mall, the existing on-mountain commercial zone, through Base Village and to the Snowmass Center, where the post office and supermarket are located. A new roundabout at a tricky and busy intersection and a community swimming pool were also included in the deal.

Ten years later, only a handful of buildings have been completed, and half-built foundations litter the ski hill. The cable car transportation has been scrapped, the swimming pool likely won’t get built, and Related Colorado, the fourth or fifth owner of the project, is haggling over construction of the roundabout and other infrastructure associated with the original approval.

Development rights for Base Village are set to expire in November, and many in the community want the town to let them do so. It’s an uncomfortable conversation, with high stakes for the community and its future look and feel.

Meanwhile, Aspen has been grappling with bigger and uglier buildings filling what was once a charming downtown core.

Back in the recession of 2002-03, following the dot-com bust and the beginning of the war on terror, city officials had the bad idea that the way to revive the economy was to incentivize development downtown.

The so-called in-fill regulations scrapped height limits and for the first time in many years allowed residential development in the commercial core. That decision is reflecting itself today in the brouhaha over the new art museum, which the majority of residents seem to agree is too big and too ugly for town, and the construction of a number of massive “mixed-use” buildings that extend beyond 40 feet in height. All those big buildings are creating a shadow effect downtown. Even more consequential is the Aspen City Council’s vote this month to provide incentives for 70-foot lodges along the base of the Aspen Mountain.

Since when, you might ask, did Aspen seek to feel more like New York City? Since the early 2000s, when the city scrapped the fundamental premise of Aspen’s land-use policies of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, which called for protection of the historical size and character of the community and its relation to the natural environment.

Then there’s Basalt. The town in the late 1990s annexed land far away from its core and approved hundreds of homes and a million or so square feet of commercial development at Willits. Now leaders are struggling mightily to keep the historic downtown relevant. People who have put their hearts and business energy into the downtown core are feeling the brunt of a development agreement that was set into motion about 15 years ago. It could be years before Old Towne Basalt is revived.

So hats off to community leaders in Glenwood Springs for taking a cautious approach toward the next big thing. Getting the right deal in place for Glenwood Ridge — if a right deal is actually possible — is best for the community and the environment in the short and near term.

Allyn Harvey is a Carbondale town trustee and longtime journalist in the area. He can be contacted at scoopharvey@yahoo.com


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The Post Independent Updated Aug 20, 2014 10:51PM Published Aug 29, 2014 07:12AM Copyright 2014 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.