Carbondale sets sail on new political voyage
Carbondale is in a transition period as newcomers to the Board of Trustees replace former elected officials who spent multiple terms gaining experience and absorbing the town’s issues.
Still, many former trustees and the outgoing mayor are optimistic about the new makeup of the board.
Trustee Frosty Merriott said the dynamics at play on the new Board of Trustees are yet to be seen, as they haven’t dived into any issues too deeply yet.
Merriott, in his eighth year on the board, is now the most senior trustee.
The new board is a sign of a more general change in priorities that’s taken place over the last decade, said John Foulkrod, a former trustee.
Where the town was once rejecting commercial and residential developments, the former Board of Trustees this year approved a proposal for a new City Market, which many hope will boost the town’s sales tax revenue.
Carbondalians have been feeling the crunch created by the town’s past no-growth philosophy, said Foulkrod.
The town will also have to give the newly approved Unified Development Code time to see how it works, said Merriott, who’s in favor of furthering the conversation about high-density development and allowing smaller units.
Former Mayor Stacey Bernot said the comprehensive plan set out the town’s vision for future development, and the UDC gave it a “backbone.” Now the trustees will have to decide what chunk of the development issues they want to address next.
Do you pursue public-private partnerships or set up a dedicated funding source? Do you encourage certain types of development or redevelopment in certain areas?
The new board will have to deal with a rental market that’s been transformed into a short-term market, which can be more lucrative for the owners, said Foulkrod.
During a Wednesday special meeting, the new board took its first stab at affordable housing, the most popular campaign promise in the last election, by first discussing how to deal with vacation rentals.
Carbondale’s developments are also affected by what other municipalities in the county are doing, said Merriott. Glenwood Springs City Council recently approved considerable variances on height and parking lot restrictions for the Oasis Creek apartment complex.
Glenwood Springs sets a precedent with that move, said Merriott. He believes more developers in Carbondale will propose taller buildings in the hopes that they will get a variance.
Foulkrod said town is now dealing with a rookie board, and the new trustees — Dan Richardson, Ben Bohmfalk and Marty Silverstein — will have to decide where their priorities lie.
“Do you take care of your infrastructure and public safety workers, or do you want to save the world?” Foulkrod asked.
The two recent failed tax proposals, one for infrastructure projects and the other to fund energy efficiency projects, were the product of the town’s no-growth policies, said Foulkrod.
The community rejected major commercial developments, so lacking the sales tax base they would have created, the board needed to look for another funding source for its capital and energy projects, he said.
“I wasn’t surprised the two (tax proposals) were defeated, but I was surprised by the margin,” said Merriott.
Each of the tax proposals was voted down by hundreds of votes in the town’s April election.
Bernot warned before the election that if the proposed property tax failed, the problem of paying for capital improvements would simply be pushed down the road.
Concerning the proposed property tax, Merriott said he’s content with waiting for the new City Market to be built, and perhaps the sales tax it generates will largely cover capital improvements costs.
But he’s not averse to reworking the climate action tax, adjusting for the criticisms it received and bringing a similar proposal to voters in a couple of years.
Staff retention in town is also going to be an emerging issue, as many experienced department heads and other personnel reach retirement, said Bernot.
But underlying all these issues will be the vote for the next mayor, said former Trustee Pam Zentmyer — not to mention the next two seats that open up on the Board of Trustees in 2018.
“We need to make sure we get dedicated candidates for these positions,” she said.
Bernot, who moved to Redstone and thus had to resign, isn’t going to venture any guesses as to who will be the next mayor, much less make any endorsements.
But she said she wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the “usual suspects” in the running for the mayor’s seat — possibly someone who’s already a trustee.
Bernot strategically timed her resignation to give the town the option of electing the new mayor in the November general election to avoid the cost of a special election and because of higher voter turnout in a general election.
Bernot, who served in town government roles for 16 years, brought a level of sophistication and leadership to the board, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be replaced, said Foulkrod.
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The family of Rosie Ferrin has worked to clean up and make safe again the old schoolhouse in downtown New Castle. Ferrin died this summer and had owned the building that included classrooms turned into apartments for years.