Carbondale ‘Downtown North’ a key focus area as town’s comprehensive plan update hits final stretch
Climate goals seek to balance housing needs with sustainable development
Reimagining a four-block expanse of land just north of downtown Carbondale has become a big focus in the town’s efforts to update its eight-year-old comprehensive land-use plan.
Currently a hodgepodge of automobile service shops, a truck wash, a self-storage facility, the Balentine Carpets showroom, a few older apartments and a variety of other light industrial uses, the former Mid-Continent coal mine service yard north of Carbondale Town Hall has long been eyed for eventual redevelopment.
A major proposal calling for over 100 residential units, mixed residential and commercial uses, and even a boutique hotel was on the table at one point in the late 2000s. But a lack of Town Council consensus, a big cost-sharing ask related to a proposed street connection and ultimately the economic impacts of the Great Recession killed that plan.
With the town’s latest efforts to update its 2013 Comprehensive Plan, the so-called “Downtown North” area is one of several focus points.
In addition, the plan update is taking a close look at the downtown area in general, residential in-fill, housing, jobs, transit and mobility, accommodating an aging population and ultimately making sure all things development related meet the town’s Climate Action Plan goals.
Downtown North stretches roughly from Eighth Street east to the new Sopris Lodge senior housing, between the Rio Grande Trail and Merrill Avenue, with access to the Carbondale Nature Park, which is popular for off-leash dog-walking.
The area provided support services for the Mid-Continent mines through the middle 20th century, with its prime location along the former railroad line.
Since the mines closed in the 1990s, it has served as one of Carbondale’s only true industrially zoned areas.
But, because of its prime location in the middle of town, it’s long been viewed as a natural transition zone between downtown and the residential neighborhoods to the north along Eighth Street.
Focus group discussions since the Comprehensive Plan update was launched over the summer resulted in several recommendations from consultants Cushing Terrell.
Among them, according to the consultants’ presentation at an Oct. 28 virtual public meeting:
- Make more opportunities for community gathering spaces, including gardens and grassy areas.
- Create a mixed area of homes and businesses, such as artisan shops but maintaining some industrial uses that keep or add jobs and housing.
- Strengthen connections to existing open spaces, while providing a mix of affordable housing types.
An arts and culture focus group convened as part of the comp plan review centered its discussion around making the area an extension of downtown, with opportunities for open-air markets and cultural events.
The Carbondale Board of Trustees and consultants continue to seek public input on the draft recommendations that have been put forth.
An online poll accessible on the project website [carbondalekaleidoscope.org/chart-carbondale] remains open until Nov. 28. A draft final plan update is due out in December, with formal approval by the Town Board slated for the first quarter of 2022.
Another key focus of the plan update is to balance Carbondale’s needs around creating more affordable housing options, while keeping growth in line with the town’s Climate Action Plan that seeks to reduce the town’s carbon footprint and recognize limited water resources in the future.
“Speed up to 2025, it’s will, not tech, that is slowing us down,” one person commented during a meeting focused on climate goals hosted by the town’s appointed Environmental Board and the nonprofit Clean Energy Economy for the Region.
Another person commented during that session that new irrigation systems should be required to use sensor technology to shut the water off when it rains. In addition, incentives should be given for water conservation.
And, instead of tearing down usable old buildings to make way for new construction, the town should encourage efforts to repurpose existing buildings, another person commented during those discussions.
Those and other comments were included in the Oct. 28 presentation.
On the housing front, recommendations aim to balance multi-family and single-family home types while preserving the character of the town’s older homes.
“We need concentrated growth; higher densities should be near the highway and then step density down from there,” one person commented at a recent open house.
A separate open house conducted in Spanish produced some perspectives from Carbondale’s significant Latino population, including, “I’m concerned that if we make Carbondale too beautiful, all of our taxes will go up, and we may get displaced.”
Downtown zoning standards should also better balance new growth with the existing character of the older buildings, and parking should be centralized to lessen the demand for limited on-street parking, the consultants also recommend.
Recommendations also touched on developing more parks facilities, increasing child care options with zoning and new construction, expanding in-town transit services, repairing and replacing older sidewalks throughout town, and improving pedestrian and bike routes to and from local schools.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or email@example.com.
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