Rifle leaders and Garfield County commissioners talk transportation, housing needs | PostIndependent.com

Rifle leaders and Garfield County commissioners talk transportation, housing needs

Los comisionados del condado de Garfield, (i-d) John Martin y Mike Samson, discuten problemas locales con el concejo municipal de Rifle el 8 de febrero.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson suggested more affordable housing be consolidated up valley. The age-old pitch to ditch the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and start a new western Garfield County transportation district was also discussed.

Garfield County commissioners were busy last week meeting with local municipalities and imparting their advice on how to solve local issues like affordable housing and transportation. 

While differing opinions on addressing these subjects permeated a joint work session between commissioners and Rifle City Council on Feb. 8, one general consensus to emerge was that Rifle is keen on becoming more of a place to both live and work — instead of being a bedroom community to places like Pitkin County.

“How can we build infrastructure or opportunities for people to work where they live, so they can make a decent wage and not have to feel like they have to travel to Aspen?” Rifle City Council Member Alicia Gresley said.

Current housing proposals and RFTA services took up the majority of the meeting’s talking points. The two governments specifically addressed developers like Eco Dwelling and Evergreen Real Estate Group, which are proposing to build what will eventually turn into hundreds of affordable housing units in Rifle.

Eco Dwelling, which already built a house manufacturing facility on U.S. Highway 6 just east of Rifle, proposes to build 17 single-family units on 1.93 acres at West 14th Street Marketplace. If it can, Eco Dwelling will eventually build 200 of its cold-formed recycled metal houses throughout town.

Meanwhile, Evergreen wants to build 60 affordable housing units on land near Brenden Rifle 7 Theaters.

Rifle City Council member Joe Carpenter and Mayor Ed Green have voted in opposition to Eco Dwelling’s efforts, concerned with anything from its neighborhood aesthetics and the size of the houses (900 square feet) to whether any ensuing homeowners association will actually keep the proposed neighborhood well maintained.

“I’m just concerned what the impact is on the community as a whole if we allow that kind of uncontrolled growth,” Green told commissioners last week.

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin pointed out that, despite older Rifle constituents also showing opposition to developers like EcoDwelling, the city should host more open houses and get a feel for what younger generations want to see when it comes to housing. Martin also suggested Rifle come up with more data on who is commuting to and from the area.

“It’s a big decision on when you have housing projects. Who are you catering to?” Martin said. “Because, Ed, you and I are old. We have a whole different set of beliefs and ideas. It doesn’t trickle down to those who are 18 to 25.”

“How many people have you talked to that are between 25 and 18, and what do they really want in a house?”

Wheels on the bus

Talks about affordable housing proposals also triggered discussion over public bus services.

Two recent studies addressed by RFTA show population growth predominantly hitting western Garfield County communities over the next 20 years.

RFTA currently operates the Grand Hogback Line, which runs from Glenwood to Rifle, at about $3.8 million for 2023. Garfield County itself has allocated $550,000 and Rifle $20,000.

County commissioners are worried that Hogback — which right now provides about 144,000 rides per year (a 47% increase since 2019) — will continue to cost more and their budget won’t be able to support it.

Silt and Parachute currently do not contribute to RFTA’s Hogback line. New Castle is part of the RFTA taxing district.

County Commissioner Tom Jankvosky suggested western Garfield County voters consider approving an increased sales tax to further fund Hogback — a proposal that has been shot down in the past — or starting its own transportation district completely. Samson also said of Hogback funding from the county, “I don’t see it as sustainable, the way it’s set up.

“I don’t want to pay for people to go from Rifle to Aspen every day,” he said. “I’m just not interested.”

Green said supporting RFTA “harkens back to our original discussion” on the Roaring Fork Valley providing their own affordable housing instead of Rifle.

“We are just enabling Pitkin County by creating this transportation mechanism,” said Green, who also feels Pitkin County through the RFTA charter has the final say when it comes to RFTA operations. “They don’t have to take responsibility for their own housing — they just push it down (Highway) 82 and push it down I-70. That’s got to stop sometime.”

“They have to accept their own workforce, and not consider them to be pariahs that they can just send home at five o’clock.”

RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blakenship attended last week’s meeting. He pointed out that many people work somewhere else besides where they live — and that is especially true for Aspen in comparison to Rifle and western Garfield County. He also disagreed that Pitkin County simply building more affordable housing is going to cut down RFTA ridership to Rifle.

“I don’t think that’s the total solution to what’s going on in our region,” he said. “There are a lot of people moving in from other areas, and will be in the future.”

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