How would candidates keep Carbondale quirky?
Many Carbondalians see a battle for the town’s soul in their future.
The candidates running for three open positions on the Board of Trustees tend to agree that keeping Carbondale’s character means focusing two things: the direction of development and the people themselves.
Most of the trustee candidates say residents’ repeated rejection of large developments on Highway 133, where the new City Market will be built, were clear signs of where the town doesn’t want to go.
Residents voting down developments of that property amounted to the community holding onto its small town character, said Allyn Harvey, who’s running for re-election.
A strip mall there would have had the Willits effect, sucking business out of the town’s core as the Willits Center did to Basalt, he said.
How and where new commercial and residential developments are created will be integral to keeping the town’s character. But so too will be residents themselves.
Being able to provide diverse housing options — for people who want to live by a golf course or those who need attainable housing — will ensure that the town keeps its eclectic mix of hippies, ranchers, retirees, miners and everyone else, said Harvey.
Make it so all those people can live here, and the rest will take care of itself, he said.
But Wayne Horak said the town is in a contradictory practice of promoting itself as a great place to visit while also trying to limit growth.
“When you make something popular it’s hard to keep it small.” Carbondale has been getting great reviews in travel and outdoors magazines, and growth isn’t something you can stop unless you quit making the place so popular, he said.
Horak said he doesn’t think trustees should concern themselves with maintaining the town’s character because the government shouldn’t “help or hinder” any industry.
Hindering growth only makes projects more expensive for the developer, and it’s the customers that will eventually pay more, he said.
Dan Richardson said every decision the town board makes poses a threat to Carbondale’s small-town character.
“To me it’s not as simple as ‘Is this going to bring revenue to town?’ We have to ask what matters to us, how our decisions will change the feel and mobility of Carbondale, whether it will bring jobs to employ residents and capitalize on what we’re good at.”
Carbondale isn’t a big regional marketplace that’s looking to draw all the area’s shoppers, but it’s been successful at being a fun town with its creative district and events that draw people, he said.
The residents’ most glaring anxiety about losing the town’s character to future growth is simply a matter of size, said Richardson. “What will happen if we continue to grow and traffic increases? People want to be able to ride their bikes safely through town and see their neighbors at the grocery store.”
People are worried that events like Dandelion Day and Mountain Fair will become so big they’ll become more like Glenwood Springs’ Strawberry Days and lose their “small town get-together” feel, he said.
“Many refer to Carbondale’s small town character as funky vitality,” Michael Durant wrote to the PI in an email. “The town needs a healthy economy in order to support a healthy community that is affordable and diverse. I believe a path to sustain our unique small town is to emphasize art as an economic engine. As a town trustee, I will use the tools at our disposal to encourage and incubate the arts community as an engine of economic growth.”
When people talk about maintaining the town’s character, they’re talking about a lot of different things, but a big part is not sprawling into surrounding open spaces, said Ben Bohmfalk.
Carbondale has decided that it wants to grow inward rather than outward, he said. Bohmfalk pointed to Telluride as an example of a small town that’s created compact density and maintained a vibrant character.
Saying no to growth entirely would turn Carbondale into a gated community that only the wealthy can afford, he said.
Carbondale is a diverse mix of people, with retirees, a large immigrant population, the middle class, artists, outdoor recreationists and white-collar workers, he said. “The consequence of saying no to growth is you don’t let anyone in but the people who can pay.”
Bohmfalk wants to encourage more mixed-use neighborhoods rather than having zoning districts that strictly segregate residential from commercial areas.
Marty Silverstein, too, wants to focus on higher-density areas with deed-restricted units, saying people are worried about both large-scale retail and residential developments.
The two votes on Village at Crystal River and Crystal River Marketplace were clear messages to keep the small-town character and support local businesses, he said.
“The town needs to decide what it wants to be. If we want a tourism-based economy — and of course we have a lot of offer — then we probably need more hotel beds.”
When conflicts with the town’s character do arise, trustees have shown they can rapidly pass ordinances to combat them — such as changes to the town’s lighting code after the Faith Carbondale Lutheran Church put up a new highway sign, said Patricia Warman.
But those kinds of changes — reactionary, “consumer complaint driven” changes — aren’t necessarily good for the town, pitting neighbor against neighbor, she said.
The town was always welcoming but “anymore I fear we risk having a government that governs every aspect of our lives” — from snow shoveling to barking dogs and cats on leashes.
Warman said she’s spent decades watching new groups of people move into Carbondale: first hippies, then Latinos, then yuppies. The Board of Trustees spending weeks on a cat ordinance rather than more important issues is a trait of the most recent group, she said.
New development changing the town’s character might be a non-issue because there just isn’t that much available land inside the town limits anyway, said Warman. But where land is available the town should promote small, economic homes or communal living with shared facilities, she said.
The PI was unable to contact Doc Philip, who’s “running to not get elected.”
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