School land swap hampered by rec designation
A wrinkle involving a planned land swap to accommodate the Glenwood Springs Elementary School renovation could force a policy shift involving a piece of city-owned land purchased several years ago with an eye toward a Highway 82 bypass.
Glenwood Springs City Council met in a work session Thursday morning with Roaring Fork School District officials to discuss how to make up for a special recreation land designation that’s attached to Vogelaar Park related to federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grant improvements done there in 1980.
The school district and city have tentatively agreed to trade that school-owned parcel for city land south of Glenwood Elementary where the city’s recycling center, storage facility and a public parking lot are located.
The swap would allow for the school to reconfigure its campus as part of one of the bond projects approved by voters last fall. The city, in turn, eventually wants a developer to build housing on the Vogelaar Park site as part of the confluence redevelopment plan.
However, the recreation designation turned up in the process of planning for the Eighth Street connection that’s part of the confluence plan and is also to be used for the Grand Avenue bridge detour next year.
For the swap to go forward, the school district and/or the city must come up with an equal amount of land, about 4.75 acres, elsewhere that’s not already designated as a park in order to transfer that designation.
About 2 to 2.5 acres of the existing Vogelaar Park parcel will qualify, since it will be retained for a playground as part of the school redevelopment, Shannon Pelland, chief financial officer for the school district, said.
The district was hoping to make up the difference using some undesignated property behind Sopris Elementary School in Glenwood Park, she said.
However, after discussions with Tom Morrisey of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which oversees the federal grant program, it was determined that parcel would not serve as an appropriate replacement, mainly because it’s too far away from the Vogelaar parcel.
Another alternative suggested by school officials Thursday would be the city-owned “bench” property located between the Rio Grande Trail and the Roaring Fork River west of Glenwood Springs High School.
Especially since the city is planning to relocate the existing Grand Avenue pedestrian bridge to that area for a foot and bike connection to Midland Avenue, it might make sense to consider park development in that location, some council members agreed.
But that property has its own encumbrances, at least as a matter of policy, acting City Manager Andrew Gorgey advised during the work session.
The bench property was purchased in the 1990s along with several other parcels along the river for transportation purposes; namely, to be used for a potential future bypass route that could ease traffic on Grand Avenue, which doubles as state Highway 82.
“I appreciate the urgency here, but you do have some important policy decisions wrapped up in this,” Gorgey said.
Council members suggested that could be addressed by designating a long section of the riverbank for recreation purposes, and leaving the bench areas for a future transportation corridor as originally intended.
When the Vogelaar designation issue arose, it was also on the school district to resolve the issue since it involves school land. For city land to be considered would burden the city to go through that process, which could take several months, Gorgey emphasized.
Also “on the table” as part of the land swap discussion is where to relocate the recycling center and city shop space where several pieces of equipment are stored. The 93-space public parking lot in that area also needs to be considered, he said.
“We are at a point of urgency around getting the design work done for Glenwood Elementary,” Pelland said. Any lengthy delays involved the land swap and recreation land designation could delay construction and ultimately increase costs, she said.
“We need to know if the city is willing to take a leap of faith, and do the land swap before we get the (designation issue) resolved,” Pelland said.
Another option for the designation that’s in the very preliminary stages of discussion could involve bringing a private landowner into the mix for a three-way swap, Mayor Michael Gamba suggested.
Property owned by the Glenwood Meadows below the Wulfsohn Mountain Park area has already been looked at for a potential soccer park complex. That area could serve as the city’s contribution to the new recreation designation, Gamba said. But it would involve a more complicated land exchange to make that happen.
Morrisey was to be in Glenwood today to look at the different parcels that are being considered for the rec designation, including the bench and Meadows properties, and whether they would qualify.
Council could revisit the issue at its regular March 3 meeting.
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