Carbondale candidates tackle growth, economy and more | PostIndependent.com

Carbondale candidates tackle growth, economy and more

Candidates running for four Carbondale Board of Trustees seats that are up for election April 3 had a chance to address some of the pressing concerns facing the town at an election forum Monday night.

Incumbent Trustees Erica Sparhawk, Heather Henry and Luis Yllanes, all of whom were appointed in recent years to their respective seats, are running for election. Joining them in the campaign are candidates Lani Kitching and April Spaulding.

In addition, Mayor Dan Richardson is running unopposed for re-election. Current Trustee Frosty Merriott is term-limited, so his seat on the seven-member town board is up, as well.

Of the five trustee candidates, the four who get the highest number of votes will be elected to the board.

The Monday forum was held at the Third Street Center, and was co-sponsored by the Carbondale Area Chamber of Commerce, the Sopris Sun newspaper and community radio station KDNK, which aired the event live.

The question-and-answer format included a variety of topics, including how each of the candidates would balance development and small-town character, and how they envision Carbondale's economic future.

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Here's a sampling of what each of the candidates in the contested trustee race had to say.

Heather Henry: "A lot of what creates small-town character is the characters," said Henry, an 18-year Roaring Fork Valley resident who has spent the last 12 of those years in Carbondale. Prior to being appointed to the town board, she served on the town's Parks and Recreation Board.

"A big part of what is the envy of other towns, is the people who make up this community," she said, adding it was those same people who took the time to weigh in on the recent comprehensive plan and unified development code updates.

"People said this is who we are, this is what we want, and this is how we want to move forward," Henry pointed out. "We need to rely on those guiding documents."

In many ways, Carbondale's diverse economy is also the envy of other towns in the area, she said.

"We have an amazing foundation to grow from," she said. But the town does need to focus on filling empty storefronts and creating jobs.

"Obviously, bringing in the housing to go with those jobs is critical," she said. "All the pieces have to move forward together at the same time."

Lani Kitching: "It's really important to me not to overlay a manufactured façade over our history-rich community. We've seen enough of that across the west … our buildings have a story to tell. We do need to keep what we call our small-town atmosphere; that's important to maintain."

Kitching is also an 18-year resident of Carbondale, and has participated in several volunteer activities and served on regional groups including the Garfield County Economic Development Partnership, the Garfield County Water Forum, and the Midvalley Collaborative on health care issues.

"Our economic future is strengthened when we attract businesses that drive revenue from outside the community," Kitching said. "We can't grow in a closed circle of just ourselves," she said, adding that Carbondale should work with state and regional economic development organizations to identify its strengths and make the town an attractive place for people to visit.

Erica Sparhawk: "One of the things people love about Carbondale … is its messy, funky vitality. We have a lot to build on historically," said Sparhawk, a Carbondale native who returned to her home town about eight years ago and now works for Clean Energy Economy for the Region.

"We are one of the more diverse economies in the region, in that we are not completely reliant on tourism … or oil and gas. We have local artists and software entrepreneurs, and I think we have been able to maintain this small-town character that's really authentic."

Sparhawk pointed to a recent presentation to the town board by the founders of the business networking group GlenX, which she said had her thinking differently about Carbondale's economic future.

"We may have more co-working spaces and tech companies, and may have less retail and fewer restaurants," she said. "Technology is changing quickly, and the world is changing quickly."

Carbondale needs to be ready to adapt to a day when sales taxes may not be as reliable as they are today, Sparhawk said, adding that sustainability businesses are now and will likely continue to be important to the town.

April Spaulding: "Growth is here, it's happening, and we need to figure out how to keep our small town character but grow in a way that's sensitive to that," said Spaulding, a Southern California transplant who married into a multi-generation Carbondale family.

There is an attitude in the business community that Carbondale's policies can say, "closed for business," she said.

"Main street is sad to me right now, with all the empty businesses sitting there," Spaulding said. "I understand that when it's your property, it's yours to do with what you want. But maybe we need to have something to not let business [property] sit idle."

At the same time, "we have vibrant, awesome small business owners … who are passionate about what they do."

Luis Yllanes: "Growth has been managed fairly well in Carbondale," said Yllanes, the town council's most recent appointee who came to Carbondale by way of Miami and has been active with various community organizations and works in arts nonprofit management.

"It's up to us as trustees to manage it in a way that maintains that small-town character that we have here," he said. "We can't lose sight of that as we see this inevitable growth that happens, and we don't want to look like the rest of the valley. It's important to many of our citizens to retain what makes us unique."

Main Street is one of those things, and it's important to make sure commercial development along the Colorado Highway 133 corridor provides a natural connection to downtown.

"I agree there needs to be continued vitality along Main Street, so that when a person owns property it's not just an asset on their portfolio," he said in reference to the single ownership of several downtown properties that has been a point of contention in Carbondale.

"It should be something they intend to develop and bring the vitality that's part of our town," Yllanes said, adding that nonprofits are also a big part of the town's economic engine.

The Carbondale candidates also touched on ways the town and its residents can reduce Carbondale's environmental footprint.

And, all five trustee candidates and Mayor Richardson said, to varying degrees, that they support Ballot Issue 2A that's on the April 3 ballot. It asks voters whether to extend an existing 1.5 mill levy for another 10 years beyond its December 2020 sunset, to pay for infrastructure needs including expanded downtown parking, pedestrian safety, street lights and general beautification efforts.

Carbondale voters can listen to the candidates forum in its entirety on the KDNK website.