Carbondale looks to incorporate climate action goals into Comprehensive Plan update |

Carbondale looks to incorporate climate action goals into Comprehensive Plan update

Input session Thursday to address town’s net-zero goals

People walk past the fenced off lot in downtown Carbondale at 6th Street and Main.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Climate goals are becoming a key focus in the process of updating the town of Carbondale’s 2013 Comprehensive Plan, as the town aims to align its land-use and growth management goals with its 2017 Climate Action Plan.

That piece of the broader Comp Plan update takes center stage this week when the town and local nonprofit organization Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER) hosts a public input session for a side-by-side look at climate action goals as they relate to land development and building construction.

The session takes place from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23 in the community hall at the Third Street Center. Participants can also attend online by signing up at

A recent survey of town residents conducted as part of the Comp Plan update process identified climate protection as one of the top issues, along with general growth and development concerns.

Keith Walzak and other members of the Cushing Terrell consulting team that is facilitating the Comp Plan update gave a progress report to the Carbondale Board of Trustees on Aug. 24.

“The plan update will serve as a supplement to the existing 2013 Comprehensive Plan, but is not intended as a complete rewrite of the current plan,” Walzak said.

Among the primary elements in updating the eight-year-old land-use guide are to reevaluate the town vision and goals, look at current growth projections and housing needs and assess areas of town that are not yet built out or could be redeveloped.

In the process, town residents are taking a close look at pedestrian and vehicle mobility around town, and keeping things youth-friendly while also considering the needs of an aging population.

But a central part of it all is to make sure land-use planning is aligned with the town’s climate change action planning; primarily, ensuring energy efficiency in new construction and finding other ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to meeting with groups like the Carbondale Age Friendly Community committee, the Bicycle-Pedestrian Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission, the project team also had conversations with CLEER and the town council-appointed Environmental Board, Walzak said.

The 2013 plan was ahead of its time in addressing ecology in the context of economic and community goals, he said.

But the town’s Climate and Energy Action Plan of 2017 took it several steps forward, outlining a set of aggressive goals aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030, and becoming a net-zero community by 2050.

Among them:

  • Improving energy efficiency in all types of new construction;
  • Accelerating the use of renewable energy sources;
  • “Decarbonizing” transportation by encouraging walking, biking and transit options;
  • Encouraging waste reduction, composting, recycling and reuse;
  • Supporting local food production and purchasing.

However, when it comes to aligning those goals with some of the land development that has taken place in recent years in Carbondale, the town falls short, said longtime resident Patrick Hunter, a member of the town’s Environmental Board.

“A lot of what we felt on the E-board about some of the development that’s occurred is that it wasn’t taking those goals for the climate into account,” Hunter said of commercial and mixed-use projects, mostly along the town’s Colorado Highway 133 corridor.

Unless there’s accountability for those goals to be met with new development, it won’t happen, he said.

“It’s going to take some actions that might be unpopular to get there,” Hunter said.

Some of it is as simple as making sure buildings are situated in a way that maximizes passive solar, thus reducing building energy costs in the winter, he said.

Other measures admittedly get to be more expensive, like requiring rooftop solar arrays, pre-wiring buildings for eventual electric instead of natural gas heat as the major utilities begin to achieve their renewable energy goals in power generation, and offering more plug-ins for electric vehicles.

“Auto makers are moving away from the internal combustion engine, and we need to be ready for that,” Hunter said.

Directing development

Other key aspects of the Comp Plan update have to do with meeting affordable housing desires, creating a mix of housing types and maximizing the developable parcels within Carbondale.

Throughout a series of public open houses, and in the online and paper surveys that were conducted — generating more than 560 responses — several themes have emerged, said Cushing Terrell consultant Nora Bland during the Aug. 24 report.

Among those are finding ways to create more attainable housing for the local workforce, preserving Carbondale’s small-town, “funky” character, slowing the pace of growth, easing traffic congestion and protecting open space areas.

In general, residents also say they want to support local businesses and not try to attract national chain stores, celebrate the town’s diversity, improve downtown parking, expand in-town transit services, discourage second home ownership and short-term rentals, limit high-density development, and address water supply concerns, Bland said.

A primary geographical focus is on the so-called Downtown North area across the Rio Grande Trail from Town Hall at Fourth Street and Merrill Avenue.

The area is zoned for light industrial, a throwback to when the former railroad frontage site was owned by and provided ancillary services for the Mid-Continent coal mines until the early 1990s.

It was proposed to be redeveloped in the late 2000s for a mix of several hundred single- and multi-family residential units, commercial-retail and a hotel. The plan was pulled after the 2008 recession, and the area remains a mix of auto service shops, light manufacturing and storage.

Growth projections suggest Carbondale is likely to add about 1,200 new residents by 2030, requiring around 450 new residential units to be built, advised consultant Dave Dixon.

More than 382 units are either currently under construction or approved for development, so the town isn’t far from meeting that need, he said.

That additional residential growth can be accommodated within the existing town limits, Dixon said, but it means that parcels like Downtown North and a few underdeveloped parts of old town are crucial in that discussion.

“The need for housing diversity has been reinforced by community members throughout the planning process to date,” he said. “Finding the right housing/jobs balance is important if the town wishes to advance a long-term, fiscally sustainable approach over the next 10 to 20 years.”

Another point that came up during the public input process this summer were concerns that the design rules for the town’s Historic Commercial Core district (downtown) are “broken,” Dixon said.

That has served to prevent commercial development on several undeveloped downtown parcels north of Main Street, even as commercial and mixed-use development has occurred along Highway 133, he said.

“The downtown area hasn’t seen recent development activity as expected, which suggests you may want to look at the standards and some code amendments to encourage development,” he said.

Latino outreach

In addition to a general open house to gather input from the public regarding the Comp Plan update, a dedicated Spanish-speaking community meeting took place Aug. 16.

The session was a first for Carbondale regarding land-use planning, acknowledging that roughly 40% of the town’s population is Hispanic.

Another virtual Spanish-speaking public meeting is slated for Oct. 19, followed by another general session on Oct. 21, also to be conducted virtually.

“The challenge to Carbondale is to do more to engage the Latino community,” said Alex Sanchez, executive director for Voces Unidas de las Montañas, a group that seeks to give voice to the area Latino population in local and state government.

While appreciative of Carbondale’s efforts to include that voice, Sanchez also noted that there needs to be more options for Latino residents to weigh in.

“A lot of the meetings are not at a time when people are available, and we’re just not getting the voices of the people we need to be at the table,” he said.

When it comes to land use and growth concerns, the Latino population has its own concerns, especially around housing and access to housing options for workers who may be undocumented. That was one of the themes that came up in the public input process, Bland said.

Sanchez said Carbondale is in a good position to include more Latino voices on a variety of issues, especially with a new police chief as of last fall and a new town manager coming on board to replace longtime Town Manager Jay Harrington, who left this month to become Routt County Manager.

“A lot of times the Latino population is never seen as part of that town governance, and that has to change,” Sanchez said.

The town is about halfway through the Comp Plan update process. More steering committee meetings are planned this month and next and again in November, plus the public input meetings.

Adoption of the updated plan is anticipated in December or January. Follow the process at

If you go …

Who: Town of Carbondale and Clean Energy Economy for the Region

What: Carbondale climate action input session

When: 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23

Where: Third Street Center community hall, 520 S. Third St., Carbondale

Why: To help guide the town’s strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change.

* Participants may also attend online by signing up at the CLEER website []. Masks will be required to attend in person.

“This session is designed to update residents on the town’s climate actions and progress to date, and to gather input to ensure that climate concerns are addressed in the updated comp plan,” CLEER explained in a news release. “Local experts will make brief presentations on climate opportunities and challenges in the areas of transportation, buildings, renewable energy, waste, water, trees and potentially other topics.”

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or

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