Housing concerns, federal policies top candidate issues in Garfield County Commissioner District 1 race
Democrat Gordon challenges Republican incumbent Jankovsky for seat
Editor’s note: This is the first in an ongoing series of articles in the coming weeks and months touching on the issues in the Garfield County Commissioner District 1 race, as well as other elected county offices that will be decided in the Nov. 8 election.
In his door-knock visits and meet-and-greet events, Garfield County commissioner candidate Ryan Gordon says he hears a common thread when it comes to the top issue facing the county.
“It’s affordable housing,” said Gordon, who announced earlier this year that he would challenge three-term incumbent Commissioner Tom Jankovsky for the District 1 seat in the November election.
“That has really been the critical issue that we’ve heard across so many different boundaries, socio-economic and whatnot,” Gordon said during a recent interview.
“I’ve talked to several businesses that are contemplating, or at least exploring, possibly moving out of the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County because of the lack of affordability,” he said. “There are people who may want to work for them, but when they look at how much it costs to live near where they work, it just makes it really untenable.”
The Glenwood Springs Democrat said it’s even an issue in his engineering firm, SGM, which has trouble hiring people even on an engineers’ salary.
It’s the same story on down the pay scale, he said.
“It just puts a lot of pressure on everybody … particularly those who are renting and those just trying to come here to start a new life or new career,” Gordon said.
Jankovsky, a Republican also from Glenwood Springs, agrees housing is a major issue, but ties the cost of housing to myriad national policy issues and the current rampant inflation nationally that he says drove his decision to seek reelection.
“What’s happening in Washington, D.C., has me as concerned today as it did when I first ran (for commissioner) in 2010,” Jankovsky said.
From public lands policies and the loss of natural gas leasing on federal lands, to inflation and what he called a “chaotic situation” at the southern border with immigration, Jankovsky said it’s hard to address local issues like housing when the tide seems to be working against Garfield County on the state and national fronts.
“I think we can make a difference in that here locally, and that’s why I’m running again,” said Jankovsky, who has been behind numerous efforts to try to influence state and federal decisions on everything from the pandemic response to oil and gas regulations, wildlife protection policies and public lands use.
When it comes to housing, Jankovsky is reluctant to have local government be directly involved in development or subsidies.
“But I do think government can play a part as a facilitator to help get private-public partnerships together and work with nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity,” Jankovsky said. “I think once the demand is there, we will see the private sector come in and start to fill that demand.”
Gordon commended the county commissioners for taking a “first step” in agreeing to contribute $200,000 to Habitat For Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley’s Rifle Wapiti Commons project in Rifle, in exchange for two units being reserved for interested county government employees.
But more needs to be done, he said, including a commitment to partner with the new Greater Roaring Fork Valley Housing Coalition.
County commissioners in March declined to provide start-up funds to kickstart the coalition. Jankovsky was supportive of at least having a seat at the table, though he was leery of government involvement.
“My frustration is affordable housing has been an issue for as long as I can remember,” Gordon said. “I was born and raised in Glenwood, and I remember in the ’90s when I was starting to pay attention to issues, and it was an issue back then.
“It doesn’t seem like our commissioners have done much in the last couple of decades to start to address this,” he said, adding the county’s involvement with the regional housing coalition is a must.
“The reality is that many of the issues we face, and affordable housing is just one, are extremely complicated with a lot of moving parts …,” Gordon said. “No one entity is going to solve this, right? … We’re all connected, and we need to be working together and trying to come up with solutions.”
Gordon also believes the county has a role in helping tenant-owners of mobile homes in the various lease-hold parks in the county navigate the new state laws that could help them purchase their lots.
“Whether that’s loans or grants, or whatever, I think home ownership is a critical aspect in this whole conversation,” he said.
Jankovsky agreed efforts should be made to preserve mobile home parks. He noted that the county’s Latino Community Committee, which he helped facilitate, plans to resume meetings in September. One of the first topics of discussion relates to issues at Apple Tree Park outside New Castle, where water concerns and rules and regulations imposed by the recent new owners of the property have residents concerned about the future of the park.
Jankovsky said he would be supportive of efforts to put the land under modular homes in the hands of the homeowners where possible, including new tiny home-style developments.
“But it’s hard to make the land-use decisions to allow that to happen these days, because ‘not in my backyard’ seems to be everywhere right now,” he said.
In the 12 years he’s been in office as a commissioner, he noted that only one large-scale residential subdivision was approved, at the former Sanders Ranch property near the Cattle Creek intersection outside Carbondale. And it never got built because of infrastructure costs.
Another project on property across from the Westbank subdivision, below where the Riverview School now sits, would have included 40 employee housing units, Jankovsky noted. It was denied by the commissioners, with Jankovsky as a lone “yes” vote, mostly due to neighbor concerns.
The contest for the District 1 county commissioner seat is one of three county offices that are contested in the Nov. 8 election, ballots for which are to be mailed out in early October.
Republican Garfield County Clerk and Recorder candidate Jackie Harmon, a longtime employee of the office under current Clerk and Recorder Jean Alberico, a Democrat, faces a challenge from Democratic Party nominee Becky Moller in the November election.
Incumbent Garfield County Treasurer Carie Couey, a Republican, also faces a challenge from Democrat Aron Diaz, a former Silt town trustee.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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