City, school district find early obstacle in confluence-area land swap | PostIndependent.com

City, school district find early obstacle in confluence-area land swap

A wrinkle needs to be ironed out before a land swap between the school district and the city that's needed for the new Glenwood Springs Elementary School construction and confluence-area redevelopment can proceed.

Vogelaar Park, which is owned by the Roaring Fork School District but operated by Glenwood Springs Parks, is encumbered with a special recreation designation dating back to some grant-funded ballfield improvements that were made in the 1980s. The park is now used as a youth baseball facility.

According to city and school district officials, the designation surfaced recently in planning for the Eighth Street connection.

In addition to a permanent city street connection that's part of the larger effort to redevelop the Roaring Fork and Colorado river confluence area, the new route is to be used for the Colorado Department of Transportation's Highway 82 detour during the Grand Avenue Bridge construction in 2017.

Playground space that will be part of the new GSES campus remodel can be transferred to make up for some of the park designation, said Shannon Pelland, chief financial officer for the school district.

But to do anything different with the rest of the Vogelaar parcel as part of the eventual confluence development will require an equal amount of land elsewhere to be designated for public parks purposes, she said.

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"It does look like we could transfer the property to the city intact, and they would have to go through the same process we're looking at to designate another property (for parks and recreation use)," Pelland said.

However, it may be simpler for the school district to take care of the use transfer prior to making the swap, she said.

"At least that's my interpretation," she said, adding it's something the school district and city need to study further.

Existing city parkland is already designated for public use, Pelland explained.

But most school playgrounds are not technically considered open for public use. So, formally adding that designation to one or more of those areas may be the solution, she said.

"We have to do that anyway whenever we get a GOCO (Great Outdoors Colorado) grant to pay for playground or ballfield improvements," Pelland said.

Such was the case with the Carbondale Middle School playground project a few years ago, she noted.

Glenwood voters in September gave permission for the city to trade land where the city recycle center and shop facilities are now located.

That area is to accommodate the GSES remodel and expansion that was approved by school district voters in November as part of a larger $122 million bond issue.

In exchange, the school would give up most of the Vogelaar park parcel to the city. That area has long been eyed for possible residential development as part of the confluence plan.

The city and Downtown Development Authority have retained the services of Community Builders (formerly the Sonoran Institute) to continue work to update the 12-year-old confluence master plan.

The plan envisions a mix of commercial and residential development, along with parks and open space, within the triangle-shaped area extending between School Street and the Roaring Fork River, and from the city-owned former sewer plant property near the river confluence south to about 11th Street.

The Vogelaar Park area in particular is being eyed for eventual transfer to a private developer to build a mix of townhouses and multi-family residential units that would serve as a transition zone between downtown and a new riverfront commercial area.

"At a general level, the idea is to create a walkable, residential neighborhood," Community Builders Director Clark Anderson said. "One of the next steps is to get clearer on how many units we can make work there.

"It is a bit of a balancing act," he added. "You want enough units to create a walkable neighborhood that supports the downtown and helps to address housing needs, and yet you want it to have a scale or feel that is comfortable for the neighboring school."

School officials have said they would prefer residential development as opposed to commercial uses next to the new elementary school.

Anderson said the plan is actually "less specific" now than it was two years ago when the update began.

He breaks the confluence area into three zones, including Vogelaar Park, the area between City Hall and the railroad side tracks that make up the so-called "wye," and the riverfront area.

"They all kind of need their own strategy," Anderson said.

The riverfront area in particular originally was eyed mostly for park space. But the more recent thinking by city leaders is that some degree of commercial development in that area, similar to what's been done in places like Buena Vista and Salida, is desirable.

One concept now envisions a lower-profile development in the area where the old sewer plant is located, and another envisions larger-scale, multi-story commercial development.

Among the questions still on the table are whether to keep the Seventh Street connection to the newly extended Eighth Street near the bridge over the Roaring Fork River.

Another new street connection, now being called "Defiance Avenue," would also connect Seventh and Eighth streets near the City Hall building.

Eliminating the Seventh Street connection west of the railroad wye could save more than $1 million in costs to relocate utilities, City Engineer Terri Partch said during a Dec. 17 discussion with City Council.

Planners are also reconsidering a pedestrian bridge over Seventh Street that had previously been removed for cost reasons, Partch said.