Meet Glenwood’s Ward 5 council candidates
The Post Independent today continues its profiles on the candidates for Glenwood Springs City Council, focusing on the candidates for the Ward 5 seat, Don “Hooner” Gillespie, Jonathan Godes and Amber Wissing.
Ballots were mailed this week to city voters for the April 4 election. Only voters in Ward 5, which takes in the south Midland Avenue corridor including the Glenwood Park, Park East, Park West and Cardiff Glen neighborhoods, will cast ballots in that race.
The ballot includes another name for the Ward 5 seat, Sarah Gordon, who ended her campaign for council after the ballots had already been printed. Votes for Gordon will not be counted, according to City Clerk Catherine Fletcher.
On Wednesday, we ran profiles on the four candidates for the open at-large seat, Rick Davis, Jonathan Gorst, Shelley Kaup and Charlie Willman, and on 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.
Here, in alphabetical order by last name, are snapshots of the Ward 5 candidates:
DON ‘HOONER’ GILLESPIE
Having served on Glenwood Springs City Council in the late 1990s and early 2000s and in the ensuing years on the city’s transportation, trails and tourism advisory boards and commissions, Don “Hooner” Gillespie believes he’s ready to step right back into the fray should he be elected to the Ward 5 seat.
“I’m very concerned with what’s going on in this town over the next two or three years after the bridge is completed,” Gillespie said. “With my background on the transportation commission and the tourism board, I feel like I can hit the floor running and won’t have as steep a learning curve.”
As a resident of Glenwood Park, Gillespie said he is especially concerned about the impacts that will come with the planned replacement of the 27th Street (Sunlight) bridge. And, the most critical need for that end of town is reconstruction of south Midland Avenue, he said.
Gillespie wants City Council to stay on top of the Colorado Department of Transportation to make sure adequate traffic controls are in place during the Grand Avenue bridge detour later this year.
“We have to make sure that every intersection has a human being controlling the lights and the traffic, and it has got to be people who are thick-skinned because it is going to be chaotic,” he said.
Several neighborhood issues top the list of Gillespie’s campaign and those of the other Ward 5 candidates, including the need for Midland Avenue improvements, prospects for a new South Bridge connection across the Roaring Fork River to Colorado 82, and the long-range future of the municipal airport.
Gillespie said he would be fine with the city’s recycling center being re-established on the airport or adjacent former rodeo grounds.
“People in my area are very much into recycling, and I don’t think that the added traffic will be nearly as much as people might think,” he said.
As for the airport itself, he said he would have to be convinced that there’s a better use for the site in the future than an airport.
“I haven’t seen anything other than maybe some people might want to develop it,” Gillespie said. “Talk about an increase in traffic.”
The South Bridge project, with its $45 million price tag, is a Garfield County problem, he said, noting his act of civil disobedience in the late 1990s when the county closed the Prehm Ranch easement leading to the Westbank subdivision to the south. He was among those who chained themselves to the gate.
“When the county closed the Prehm Ranch easement, they more or less should have taken on the responsibility for the South Bridge,” Gillespie said. “The city can participate, but the problem was created by the county and I think they should pony up.”
Midland Avenue “can’t wait, it’s got to be done now,” he said.
Citywide, Gillespie said Glenwood should return to a priority rotation schedule when it comes to street maintenance and repairs, as it had when he was on council previously, so that every part of town has its streets repaired when their time comes.
Gillespie also supports plans to redevelop the Sixth Street area after the new Grand Avenue bridge is open, especially since he believes the 700 block of Grand will have a hard time recovering with the new, wider bridge structure coming into downtown.
The city should be careful not to cram too much into the city-owned portion of the confluence area west of downtown, he said.
“If you take a look at that area, there’s not that much room to develop without making it look very crowded,” Gillespie said. “I’m for more recreational type uses in that area.”
The Vogelaar Park portion of the confluence is where a mix of residential, retail and office space, and possibly a performing arts theater, would be more appropriate, he said.
The best use for the city-owned former library building at Ninth and Blake would be a senior center, Gillespie said.
“It’s in a neighborhood, it’s easy to get to, and they don’t have a place,” he said of senior citizens. If a business incubator were to also be included, “what better way for young business people to learn than going to seniors and using their experience and knowledge to help them?” he said.
Gillespie said the city’s shortage of local workforce housing comes down to working with developers of the unfinished residentially zoned sections of the Glenwood Meadows to meet that need.
“It’s already approved, and it’s where we decided a long time ago to put affordable housing,” he said. “It has to be fairly close to the downtown, and it has to be close to shopping and walkable so that you’re not increasing traffic. If that means the city has to bend a little bit for a developer out there, so be it.”
As director of a nonprofit organization with a background in public administration, Park West neighborhood resident Jonathan Godes says he will bring a business sense as well as a sense of how local government operates to Glenwood Springs City Council.
“Having worked for a municipality at a fairly high level, I believe I do have that experience and will be able to understand the language,” said Godes, who is director of the Early Childhood Network and was formerly an assistant parks director for the city of Aspen.
“I also feel like I can come in and immediately advocate for the many neighborhood concerns that we are facing,” he said, noting that outgoing Councilor Leo McKinney, who is term-limited, had approached him about running for the open ward seat.
Several neighborhood issues top the list for Godes’ campaign and those of the other Ward 5 candidates, including the need for Midland Avenue improvements, prospects for a new South Bridge connection across the Roaring Fork River to Colorado 82, and the long-range future of the municipal airport.
“I’m a citizen of Glenwood Springs before I’m necessarily a resident of Park West, but my ward has such need and neglect, that the priorities for my ward should be the overwhelming priorities for the city,” he said.
Godes said he worries that downtown improvements are often placed ahead of needs in the outlying neighborhoods.
“If we had a $100 million, would downtown require 90 million on the argument that’s what generates your tax revenue?” he asks. “That’s not an argument I’m debating, but at some point there are diminishing returns.
“Sometimes it seems like we’re fiddling while Rome is burning because, literally, Midland is falling apart,” he said of one of Glenwood’s biggest deferred maintenance projects.
The South Bridge project and the future of the municipal airport are intertwined, Godes said.
“Emergency access is a compelling argument for the South Bridge, but it’s not truly why people want it,” he said. “Most people want it because of the connectivity, and because it’s a way of getting that sometimes gridlocked traffic off of Midland.”
The city and Garfield County have to work together with the state to come up with funding for the estimated $45 million project, Godes said.
“We just need to continue to work with county try to find way to leverage funds to achieve it for the good of all Garfield County residents, because city residents are still county residents,” he said.
The proposed airport runway underpass is one expensive detail of the current plan that Godes said has him scratching his head when it comes to the future value of the airport.
“I’m not a proponent of shutting down the airport, but it seems like the safety issue with the airport in relation to the south Glenwood neighborhoods is more real and demonstrable” than the prospect for another wildfire, similar to the 2002 Coal Seam Fire, which led to calls for the south “escape route” out of town in the first place.
“That’s going to be a conversation that has to happen sometime,” he said, pointing out that it’s 64 flat acres that “could have a significantly greater value” for other public amenities such as ballfields or affordable housing.
Opportunities for housing that local workers can afford could be passing the city and other area governments by without a regional approach, Godes said.
“I don’t think the free market is going to bail us out of this one, and this is a place where government plays an important role, whether through strongly encouraging developers or creating something through a public/private partnership,” he said.
The city’s recent efforts to waive fees for developers to build rental units is an important part of the equation, Godes said. But there also needs to be a “healthy mix” of rentals and home/condo ownership, he said.
The confluence area that’s being planned for redevelopment is one place where higher-density housing makes sense, along with open space, retail and other commercial development, he added.
“But I don’t want to see it just turned over to a developer,” he said. “Because the city owns that property, it can have a hand in guiding it to be something that fits in with the character … and it’s an important piece of the connectivity to our commercial core.”
When it comes to use of the old library space, Godes said he would want to see some criteria to weigh the various proposed uses.
“If don’t have a comfort level in picking winners and losers when it comes to nonprofits, because no matter what happens it gets political,” he said.
Godes said he would oppose any plans to re-establish and in-town recycling center at the airport, because of the traffic problems it could create.
“We fought that battle with the (previously proposed) FedEx facility out there, and Midland just can’t handle that extra traffic,” he said.
Born and raised in Glenwood Springs and having immersed herself in community volunteer work as a young professional and choosing to stay and raise a family here, Amber Wissing believes she’s the one to represent her Ward 5 neighborhood on City Council.
“There are so many exciting decisions that this next council will make about the future and how Glenwood shapes up that I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try to get involved,” said Wissing, who was approached by members of the Glenwood chamber’s Community on the Move Committee to give it a shot.
“I also think I’m the best choice for south Glenwood, particularly right now,” said the Cardiff Glen resident who has served on her local homeowners’ association board for eight years.
“In talking to my neighbors, it does seem that south Glenwood feels underrepresented and not listened to right now,” Wissing said.
“My side of town is ready for some attention,” she said, noting that she shares the same concerns as the other Ward 5 candidates when it comes to the need for Midland Avenue improvements, prospects for a new South Bridge connection across the Roaring Fork River to Colorado 82, and the long-range future of the municipal airport.
She hopes to bring a “strong voice” to council regarding the South Bridge planning, and said she will lobby for a design that preserves the neighborhood.
“There is a large percentage of my own neighborhood that’s not excited about the South Bridge,” Wissing said. “However, I believe that the safety of residents trumps anything else, and if something happens we have got to be able to get people out of that side of town.”
Wissing said she also supports finding a way to bring the Ride Glenwood south route back, after the neighborhood bus service was discontinued in the aftermath of the recession.
“Any option to get as many cars off Midland and out of our traffic cycle seems like a win,” she said.
“We’re going to have a really good opportunity when the bridge goes down as a community to practice alternative forms of transportation,” Wissing said of the upcoming Grand Avenue bridge closure and detour. “It’s forcing our hand, but it’s also a chance to change our culture a little bit by exploring other options.”
If anything different were to happen to the municipal airport in the future, there would have to be a master plan that would be acceptable, she said.
Some residents want to keep it, she said, because should there be a disaster the airport would be an asset for receiving aid.
The confluence area west of downtown presents a wonderful opportunity for something that could benefit Glenwood Springs well into the future, Wissing said, adding she supports the envisioned mix of residential, retail and commercial with an active public riverwalk park area.
“The Vogelaar part of that area would be ideal for some housing, because it’s close to downtown and there’s a neighborhood element there already with the school,” she said. “It’s something I am generally in favor of to address the housing issue.
“But it has to be a well-thought-through, well-planned endeavor,” she said.
Same with any development proposals that could address the workforce housing shortage in Glenwood Springs, Wissing said.
“I do think the city has role to play in encouraging more creative solutions,” she said. “But from my perspective, I do not believe it is in our best interest to line the mountainsides with large scale, high-density developments.”
Regarding use of the old library on the east side of downtown, Wissing said she would want to develop some type of process to weigh the various proposals and determine the best use.
Wissing said she supports efforts to re-establish an in-city recycling center, and acknowledges the passion residents have for finding a new central location.
“The landfill is not a real viable option,” she said. “I’m also in favor of exploring different options,” Wissing said. “Cities recycle in all sorts of ways, and we maybe need to look at some different models.”
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