Carbondale ponders future of old school
CARBONDALE – No one’s denying the need for affordable housing for teachers, as Carbondale trustees weigh a request to rezone what’s historically been a school campus for just such a use.But concerns on the part of some council members about the precedent of rezoning the property without a specific development plan and at least some assessment of neighborhood impacts threaten to stall the efforts, some fear. Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig worries that the process could be “stumbling into paralysis” if the town doesn’t proceed, and trust the Roaring Fork School District and a yet-to-be-named developer to come back with a plan that the town can consider.”People have a tendency to pick the worst example of what could happen, instead of the best possible thing that can come out of this,” Hassig said during a visibly frustrating meeting Tuesday to weigh the pros and cons of rezoning the property now and dealing with the specifics of a development plan later.”Zoning is just a starting point … there are provisions to deal with the issues (during the subdivision and development review),” he said. “I’m totally comfortable with the degree of oversight the town will have after we do the zoning.”Hassig said it’s time for the town and the school district to “demonstrate a degree of good faith,” and move forward with the proposal.The zoning request is just the first piece of what will eventually involve a development plan for the sprawling, 14-acre school campus containing the Carbondale Middle School building and the former Carbondale Elementary School.Zoning would allow for up to 89 residential units, clustered on different parcels along the west side of Third Street and around the now-vacant CES building, and possibly extending west along Sopris Avenue.Most of the housing would be medium and high density, with some single-family homes, according to the zoning request. Most of the housing would be made available to district teachers in an effort to keep qualified teachers in the district, since many now leave after a couple of years due to the high cost of housing.The zoning would also create a parcel for the former CES building to be transferred to the town to become a community nonprofit center and small-business incubator.”This is a crisis situation,” Trustee Russ Criswell said of the need for affordable teacher housing. “What we’re doing here is one of the most dynamic things this town has ever done; working with the school district to create affordable teacher housing.”We need to get going on this,” Criswell said in support of rezoning the property.But some on the board want at least a sketch plan for the housing development, as well as a required “Community Impact Assessment” as part of the zoning request, rather than waiting for the development application to come in.”By moving forward with the zoning, it seems like it puts the school district in a box as far as what can go there,” Trustee John Foulkrod said. “I don’t think it’s a smart move.”Several neighbors near the school campus also continued to express concerns about the density of the project, and the associated impacts of increased traffic and the like.”Third Street will be a parking lot, like Second and Eighth streets are now if you approve this,” Second Street townhouse resident Mark Luttrell said.A couple of teachers also spoke, saying affordable housing is imperative to retaining good teachers in the school district.”If this doesn’t happen within the next two years, I will be a member of this community who won’t be here,” Steve Davis said.
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