Meet Glenwood’s at-large City Council candidates
The Post Independent today kicks off three days of profiles on the candidates for Glenwood Springs City Council.
Ballots are being mailed this week to city voters for the April 4 election.
Today, on pages 2 and 3, see profiles the four candidates for the open at large sea. They are Rick Davis, Jonathan Gorst, Shelley Kaup and Charlie Willman.
On Thursday we will profile the three candidates running for the Ward 5 seat, Don “Hooner” Gillespie, Jonathan Godes and Amber Wissing.
Friday we will profile the lone candidate running for the Ward 2 seat, Rick Voorhees.
The candidates seek to replace three council members who are term limited: Leo McKinney, Stephen Bershenyi and Matt Steckler.
At-large candidates, in alphabetical order by last name:
A growing frustration for Rick Davis in the years after he served on Glenwood Springs City Council from 1999 to 2003 was a feeling that he and other residents aren’t always acknowledged when they bring concerns to city officials.
Recently, he said he believes that translates to some of the concerns being expressed about the changing traffic patterns in different parts of town due to construction impacts as the new Grand Avenue bridge nears completion.
“As a council member, you may not always agree with what someone has to say, but you at least have to acknowledge that the person was heard,” Davis said of one the driving forces behind his decision to run for council 14 years after the end of his first foray into local elected office.
“Behind every council decision there’s a human face, and we have to keep that in perspective,” he said. “I believe I would really listen, respond and react, and I have common sense, experience and vision.”
On issues ranging from mitigating traffic congestion during the current construction and in the future, to guiding the redevelopment of the river confluence area, to finding ways to create more workforce housing, Davis said he sees himself as a problem-solver.
Take the current dilemma facing the city regarding where to establish a new in-town recycling center after the one on School Street closed to make way for the expanded Glenwood Springs Elementary School. Rather than trying to duplicate the footprint of that facility, he suggests a smaller layout to allow people to continue recycling household items in town, and take care of the bigger items such as scrap metal and electronics at the South Canyon Landfill.
Davis says City Council has not done enough to hold the Colorado Department of Transportation accountable for impacts caused by the bridge project. That can change by urging better traffic controls during the upcoming bridge detour period, he said.
“We need to stand our ground with CDOT,” Davis said. “If a developer came to town with a project that caused this much disruption, we would make sure to extract our 10 pounds of flesh.”
Davis believes the city is not doing enough to keep up with street maintenance, noting that only a small fraction of the overall streets budget this year is set aside for maintenance and temporary crack seal and patch work.
“We have to do a different job of managing that budget and put the priority back on city streets and infrastructure.”
Davis has been an outspoken opponent of the city taking the lead on the estimated $45 million South Bridge project, saying that should be the county’s responsibility.
“We do need to be at the table, and the city does have needs there, and it’s a very dire need,” he said, adding the primary need is for an escape route should there be another wildfire between south Glenwood and the main part of town, as with the 2002 Coal Seam Fire.
“We also have a real traffic problem at 27th Street from all of the people that come down that corridor,” Davis said. “But the county has allowed that area to grow with some high densities south of town, without being responsible for the long-term impacts it has caused.”
Regarding the confluence area that’s being planned for eventual redevelopment, he sees the area as a “focal point” with a mix of housing, retail and office space development and a “pedestrian-scale” connection between downtown Glenwood Springs and Glenwood Meadows.
“We need to preserve and protect the river area, while making it useful and accessible,” he said. “We have to be very wise in putting together a master plan and not run off and do it so fast just to get it done.”
Glenwood has a role to play in a regional approach to addressing the workforce housing shortage in the valley, while protecting its own interests, Davis said.
“Glenwood Springs has finite area, and we’re defined by our barriers, so we don’t have a lot of space to put more housing,” he said, noting that he was on City Council when the Glenwood Meadows project was being reviewed and that the 425 residential units approved for that area should go a long way to address the city’s housing needs.
As a relative newcomer to Glenwood Springs, Jonathan Gorst believes City Council could benefit from a set of “fresh eyes,” especially as it relates to promoting downtown businesses and the arts.
“I believe I can point out some of the strengths that the city has that some people who have been here a long time may not see,” said Gorst, who last year became the owner of one of the Glenwood’s landmarks, the Riviera Supper Club, which he has rebranded with a piano bar.
One of his main reasons for running for the open at-large seat on City Council is to promote the arts, which as a Broadway tour music director and conductor for 17 years before coming to Glenwood Springs he believes he brings some valuable insight.
“I know of some great examples where art centers and performing arts have helped communities, and Glenwood is in a position right now that it can anchor itself in that way, too,” Gorst said.
Currently, Gorst is working on a plan to restore the old Durand Opera House space that is now a vacant shell in the upstairs portion of the Eagles Club on Seventh Street. If successful in earning the Eagles organization support and lining up some public/private partnership funding for the project, it’s a facility that could serve the performing arts groups that don’t have a regular space to perform in now.
That said, he acknowledged that he parts with arts supporters when it comes to use of the former library building at Ninth and Blake.
“A senior center seems like the most viable use of that space,” he said. “It wouldn’t take a great deal of renovation to make it a usable senior center for this community.”
The confluence-area development that is being planned could include additional, small-venue performance spaces as well, but there needs to be a solid master plan, Gorst said.
“I wouldn’t want to see any quick decisions on how that area gets developed,” he said. “We need to know the impacts in terms of traffic and how that’s managed, so we need a master plan that looks ahead five, 20 even 50 years, and that takes into account a lot of different opinions from people with the right credentials.”
That goes for the broader community planning that is happening around the Grand Avenue bridge project, including the Sixth and Seventh street redevelopment and collaborations with neighboring communities to consider traffic impacts in Glenwood Springs from their planning activities, he said.
Gorst said he supports the South Bridge project as a way to address the traffic bottleneck in the south Glenwood neighborhoods, but it will need to take cooperation with Garfield County and the Colorado Department of Transportation to get it funded, he said.
“We have people who need to be able to move more freely in that direction, but the area has been heavily developed without good access,” he noted.
On the housing front, Gorst said he supports finding ways for the city to encourage homeowners to build accessory dwelling units, including fee breaks if they would agree to cap rents.
“I would also like to find a way to bring existing ADUs that were built illegally into the permitting process and let them be part of the housing solution,” he said.
When it comes to growth and development in general, Gorst said he leans toward the slow growth side of the equation, especially given that Glenwood Springs is so constrained geologically.
“We’re so restricted by space here, and we just can’t sprawl like a city on the Front Range or in the Midwest,” he said. “One of the charms of being in the mountains is we get to look at some of the European models and how they work things out in a constricted space.”
The bigger issue of meeting the region’s workforce housing is a discussion Glenwood Springs should also be a part of, perhaps through the formation of a regional housing authority, Gorst agreed.
Regarding street repairs, Gorst said it’s time for the city to make Midland Avenue and other streets that have been neglected a top priority. The West Glenwood area could also use some more attention in terms of infrastructure needs and possible redevelopment, he said.
Economic growth, development and a new downtown highway and pedestrian bridge make this “an exciting time for Glenwood Springs,” says at-large City Council candidate Shelley Kaup, who seeks a return to council after a five-year hiatus since her previous term as the Ward 4 representative from 2007-11.
At the same time, the city’s leaders should remember to do things to help keep Glenwood Springs “liveable” and be cognizant of maintaining the qualify of life that residents enjoy, she said.
“I see Glenwood as a very unique, thriving community with a strong economy, with great health care, strong retail, great schools and wonderful neighborhoods,” Kaup said. “But I think sometimes we could focus more on the residents and keeping our town authentic, and not just creating a community for tourism.
“I also have good knowledge about things like transportation and city services, such as the waste collection, and can bring some knowledge on the utility side of it,” she said.
As a result of her engineering background and her recent work in sustainability with the nonprofit Clean Energy Economy for the Region, Kaup said she can bring some unique ideas to the table when it comes to the confluence area redevelopment, transportation, housing and waste management.
Kaup would like to see a regional or even nationwide design competition for the confluence area, which she, like others, generally envisions as a mix of housing, retail and office space with public park areas and gathering spaces.
“I see that area as such an opportunity, and it’s such a fantastic location,” she said. “I’d like to put it out there more broadly and see what kinds of ideas there are that maybe we haven’t thought of internally as a community.
“Then we can take those ideas and pick and choose out of it, and let the community take it from there,” she said.
When it comes to housing and development in general, Kaup said she prefers higher density within the city’s boundaries, rather than sprawl outside the city’s growth boundary.
“If people can live and work within the core community, hopefully they will drive less and walk to places as much as possible,” she said.
While supporting residential development at the confluence, “it’s not a place to max out density,” Kaup said. “We do want to protect the riverbank, and make that more of a public gathering place that’s protected but also has some public access.”
The Sixth Street redevelopment is also a place where residential units could be built above commercial space as a way to provide more urban-centric housing, she said.
Regarding use of the old downtown library building that the city owns, Kaup said she leans toward a senior center among the options that have been suggested. But it’s a big enough facility to accommodate multiple uses that could feed off of each other, she said.
“I don’t see that we need to separate age groups,” Kaup said. “There area a lot of very intelligent, vibrant, experienced seniors out there who could help people who are just starting their careers, and they can benefit from that back and forth conversation.”
On the transportation front, Kaup said the South Bridge would provide a critical outlet on the south end of town and it’s a project that needs to stay at the forefront of city planning.
“We can’t really build our way out of the traffic issues on that end of town if we don’t have a South Bridge,” she said, adding it will take a coordinated effort between the city, Garfield County and the state to make it happen.
Kaup also wants to see the Rio Grande rail corridor preserved as a future option for light rail service in the Roaring Fork Valley, while also preserving the city’s various transportation connections that require crossing of the historic rail corridor.
Recycling and waste management are also important issues to Kaup, who believes the city needs to work harder to find an in-town recycling center to replace the one that had to be closed.
“Recycling is important, and it’s going to be more important going forward,” she said. “We tend to throw away a lot in our society, and we’re running out of places to put it.
“We also need to rethink resource and waste collection in the city,” she said in support of exploring a franchise contract for waste haulers that she said could result in some efficiencies and less impact on neighborhoods.
After eight years on the Glenwood Springs Downtown Development Authority board, including most of that time as chairman, Charlie Willman says he’s ready to use that knowledge to inform policy decisions on City Council.
“I believe in service to the community, and I think that’s real important,” Willman said. “Glenwood is at a unique point in its history, and I think I have some skills be helpful to City Council with the immediate problems that are going to come up over the next year and a half as the bridge is being finished.”
A lot has to do with seeing through the work that the DDA has done in conjunction with the city to plan out and redevelop the areas on either side of the new Grand Avenue bridge, including Seventh Street, the Sixth Street corridor and ultimately the confluence area west of the main downtown.
“We have to figure out how to make that attractive to the people coming into our community, so they’re drawn in and want to stay and enjoy it,” he said.
Longer term, the city should look at extending improvements up to 10th Street as a way to activate commercial properties on the upper end of the downtown core, Willman said.
From preparing for the Grand Avenue bridge closure and detour later this year to planning for the redevelopment of the confluence area, transportation issues, housing and infrastructure needs, “I think I have good judgment and I’m willing to listen, learn and will try to make good decisions for the good of the entire city,” Willman said.
Having worked on the Glenwood Chamber’s Community on the Move Committee to renew the city’s special A&I tax, Willman said it’s important to focus on the projects that were identified for funding using that tax over the next 30 years.
That includes the Sixth Street redevelopment and the confluence, as well as the numerous bridge connections that are in the city’s long-range transportation plan, such as South Bridge and vehicle connections at 14th Street and Devereux Road to Midland.
“The city can’t fund South Bridge alone, but we have to get people out of the south end of town effectively,” Willman said.
The confluence area holds potential for addressing the area’s workforce housing shortage, Willman said, but in a mixed-use setting.
“We will want to enhance the riverfront by moving any development back up away from the river,” he said, adding he would like to see a performance venue in the confluence, but isn’t sure it’s something the city can afford.
The housing problem is as big an issue for middle-income earners as it is for lower-income residents, Willman acknowledged.
“It’s the new lawyers and the engineers and nurses and teachers who come to town and can’t find a place to live,” he said. “Even people who are making between $60,000 and $100,000 are having a hard time, and that’s a challenge.”
The other challenge is finding places to build with a limited amount of space in city limits to develop housing, he said, adding a regional housing authority might be a way to address it.
“But the city has got to make sure it’s able to share proportionally in how that money is spent,” Willman said of a potential housing development tax.
Willman said he believes Glenwood Springs is a great place to raise a family, and agreed with other candidates that it’s also important to protect the small-town character.
“The challenge is to try to keep that character while also trying to meet all these other needs,” he said. “We have to look at each development and ask how that fits into the community.”
The idea of locating a business incubator in the old library space is interesting, but Willman said that type of use might be better in one of the existing commercial spaces on Grand Avenue. As the legal representative for the Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts, which also would like to use the library space, Willman said he would likely have to excuse himself from that discussion if elected.
“I think the bridge, when finished, will be a source of pride for the city, and I think a lot of credit goes to (DDA director Leslie Bethel) and the DDA board for pushing to make it a very nicely designed bridge,” he said.
The upcoming detour will be difficult, he said, adding it will be up to the city to work with bridge project officials to make sure proper planning is done to prepare for that 95-day period.
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