South Bridge discussion dominates Issues and Answers candidates forum | PostIndependent.com

South Bridge discussion dominates Issues and Answers candidates forum

At-Large Glenwood Springs City Council candidates, from left, Rick Davis, Jonathan Gorst, Shelley Kaup and Charlie Willman, answer questions during the Issues and Answers council candidates forum at City Hall Tuesday evening.

Funding for the long-discussed South Bridge route to Colorado 82 south of Glenwood Springs, and who pays what share of the estimated $45 million cost, was among the more passionate of issues addressed at the Glenwood Chamber's Issues and Answers City Council candidates forum Tuesday night.

"I'm not in favor of it if the city is the driving force" to fund it, At-Large candidate Rick Davis, a former city councilman from 1999-2003, said when the question was posed.

While important as an "escape route" in the event of an emergency and to relieve congestion on Midland Avenue and the 27th Street bridge, Davis noted that the planned route itself lies outside city limits in Garfield County.

"That's not our responsibility, that's the county's responsibility, and they should be putting the money up," he said.

Ward 5 candidate Don "Hooner" Gillespie, also a former member of council during the period immediately following the 2002 Coal Seam Fire when the South Bridge project emerged as a solution, said he also believes it's a county problem.

"That's a real sore spot for me," Gillespie said, adding he opposed the county's decision in the late 1990s to close the Prehm Ranch easement that runs from the area near the city airport to the Westbank subdivision.

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"If they hadn't done that, we would have had an escape route," he said. "To me, it's totally a county problem, and it should come from county funding."

Others among the seven candidates running for two contested seats on City Council in the April 4 mail ballot election said they support some level of funding by the city to build the bridge and new highway connection.

Otherwise, the candidates found little to disagree on, though they had some different approaches to addressing issues ranging from South Bridge and other infrastructure projects, to redevelopment of the confluence area and the Sixth and Seventh street areas after the new Grand Avenue bridge is completed, and working to bring more affordable housing opportunities to the table.

The forum invited the four candidates seeking to fill the At-Large seat being vacated by Stephen Bershenyi, who is term-limited after eight years on council.

His successor hopefuls include Davis and another former council member, Shelley Kaup, as well as longtime Downtown Development Authority board member Charlie Willman and new Riviera Piano Bar owner Jonathan Gorst.

Vying for the Ward 5 seat being vacated by Leo McKinney, in addition to Gillespie, are political newcomers Jonathan Godes and Amber Wissing.

A fourth candidate in that race, Sarah Gordon, ended her campaign this week, although her name will still appear on ballots that are set to be sent out to city voters on March 13.

Attendees at the forum also heard from Rick Voorhees, who is the lone candidate seeking the Ward 2 seat being vacated by Matt Steckler who, like McKinney and Bershenyi, is term-limited.

Godes and Wissing both said South Bridge is crucial to provide an outlet for the south Glenwood neighborhood, and that the city has a part to play.

"Safety trumps any inconvenience that's going to happen," Wissing said. "It's important for everyone to understand that, for the greater good, we need South Bridge, but we need to do this well, and we need to mitigate for any impacts to the best of our ability."

Godes said the county should come to the table with more money than the city, and that the Colorado Department of Transportation is an important player as well.

"It's something that's absolutely doable, and I think it has to be done if not for safety, at least for connectivity for our residents and the people living up Four Mile," Godes said.

At-Large candidates said they, too, see the importance of the new route over the Roaring Fork River to 82 as a relief valve for south Glenwood and the Four Mile corridor.

"We can't build our way out of it [without South Bridge]," Kaup said, adding that it would cost nearly as much to improve Midland Avenue and widen the 27th Street bridge to handle future traffic without the southerly route.

"It's a lot of money, no question … but it does need to be built," Willman said, adding the city and county should work to find grant money to help pay for the project.

CDOT involvement is essential, said Gorst, as is working with the county to make South Bridge a reality.

"The people who live up Four Mile also own businesses here," Gorst said. "They may not live in the city, but they are part of our community."

Glenwood and the greater Roaring Fork Valley's shortage of worker housing was also addressed by the candidates, several of whom supported at least exploring a regional housing development authority.

"It is a regional problem, but I’m hesitant to jump on with a regional housing authority, and would have to consider that carefully before we add any additional taxes," Kaup said. "There may be other creative solutions, maybe through public-private partnerships or more infill housing."

A taxing entity may be the only way to generate enough funds to make that happen, said Willman. But Glenwood should be cautious in forming an authority to make sure it has a proportional voice in any decision-making, he said.

Davis said he doesn't support financial incentives for developers, such as fee waivers, if it comes at the expense of utility rate increases for existing residents.

"We do have to work hand in hand with developers, but we don't have to give things away to get them to do it," he said.

The Ward 5 candidates, as well as Ward 2 candidate Voorhees, all agreed housing is an issue best solved regionally.

"Affordable housing is a huge issue in Glenwood Springs, but it's not an issue Glenwood can solve by itself," Voorhees said.

"We need to look at a regional approach," Godes agreed.

"We need something a little less piecemeal," he said. "Affordable housing is a valley issue, and to go it alone without the assistance, help and cooperation of other governments I don't think is a great place to start."

Most of the candidates agreed that the river confluence area west of the main downtown is ripe for redevelopment, including opportunities for housing, businesses and a riverwalk park. But it's not as high a priority as redeveloping the areas around the Grand Avenue bridge once it's finished, or fixing Midland Avenue and the many other streets around town that are falling apart.

Godes said he doesn't believe the city has given high enough priority to rebuilding Midland Avenue.

"If we have a community that doesn't value fixing Midland, and having a South Bridge for the health and safety of its residents, then I don't know what we're doing," Godes said.

Candidates also touched on a range of other issues, such as re-establishing an in-city recycling center, immigration enforcement by local police, ideas for performing arts space, what to do with the old library building, and more.

The full Issues and Answers Forum can be found online at KMTS.com.