Community stands behind Glenwood Springs Airport
The future of the Glenwood Springs Airport has caused some turbulence in the community, as evidenced by comments at Wednesday evening’s airport scenario planning meeting where the sometimes contentious conversation took off.
Last fall, the project consulting team led by Gruen Gruen + Associates, with help from local firms The Land Studio and SGM, began the Airport Property Scenario Planning Project at the request of city officials.
Wednesday, they delivered their findings to a packed house at Sopris Elementary School in south Glenwood, situated just north of the municipal airport facility.
“We are in the early innings here,” a representative for the consulting team said at the beginning of the meeting regarding the process to consider the various scenarios laid out for the airport property.
However, members of the public in attendance quickly questioned the consultant team’s findings.
“We are really almost done torturing you, so, just hang in there with us,” one of the consultants said to the testy audience.
The public was met with three potential scenarios: “Expanded aviation,” continuing the land’s use as a small-craft airport, or redeveloping it as a “mixed-use village” or strictly “residential village.”
The aviation scenario floated the idea of expanded and modest enhancements to the airport’s facilities. It would also retain existing municipal uses, such as the police impound lot and public works storage. Non-aviation industrial uses, where physically feasible, were also introduced under the expanded aviation scenario.
The second scenario, a mixed-use village, would convert most of the airport property to non-aviation uses, with the exception of a helipad and fueling station. Approximately 75 percent of this scenario would cater to residential use, while 25 percent would go toward non-residential uses.
According to the consultants’ presentation, the mixed-use village development would address housing and industrial shortages, as well as maintain municipal uses and provide for recreational uses to further serve residential components of the plan.
Scenario three, a residential village, would convert the property entirely to non-aviation uses. Under this scenario, a greater emphasis on housing would exist. This plan, in addition to mixed residential uses, would call for larger-scale development that may include partnering with some private landowners.
“Your analogy of the baseball game, who are the umpires here?” asked one community member, who didn’t identify himself. “We have been burned before, and I don’t want us to get burned again.”
The consulting team said that the Glenwood Springs City Council would ultimately serve as the officiating crew.
Currently, the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport predominately provides hangar space and tie-downs for private small airplanes, aircraft mechanics, air medical transport and, when necessary, fire operations to the city.
“The air ambulance has grown to be a critical community need, and that’s part of the scenario that needs careful consideration as decisions are formulated,” Glenwood City Councilman Rick Voorhees said in a separate interview.
Voorhees also commented that he would like to hear directly from fire fighters about the role the Glenwood airport plays during fire season.
“Access to helicopter fuel is one factor. Other factors include access to fire retardant material, river water, and fresh crews,” Voorhees said. “It’s not a simple picture.”
Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson said ahead of the meeting: “Particularly for wildfire operations, we saw it used just last year as a heliport for some of the Lake Christine helicopters.
“It proved to be a valuable resource for that incident,” Tillotson said. “It has been used historically from time to time for other firefighting aircraft, so it is nice to have that here.”
“This airport is critical to our hospital, no question,” a member of Valley View Hospital’s team said when another Glenwood resident asked why he should care about the airport? The candid answer was met with raucous applause.
“You can’t put a cost on a human life,” added another resident who said she hears the helicopter fly over her house located right next to the airport.
The support for the community’s airport did not end there, as one young man in attendance who had aviation aspirations touted the facility’s educational components, too.
City Council will continue to weigh the scenarios presented by the consulting team, especially as it moves forward with plans for the South Bridge project. The airport property is a critical component of that plan to provide a new traffic connection between the South Glenwood area across the Roaring Fork River to state Highway 82.
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Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon may be closed intermittently Wednesday through the weekend, as highway crews break down and remove boulders and patch potholes caused by Tuesday’s rock slide.