Sunday Profile: ‘Sabbatical’ for longtime city planner McGregor
Glenwood Springs was a much different place when Andrew McGregor joined the community development department in 1992.
The south Glenwood neighborhoods surrounding Glenwood Park hadn’t been built, north Midland Avenue dead-ended at Red Mountain Drive, and the northern flank of Red Mountain where the Glenwood Meadows development now sits was an undeveloped former ranch called Wulfsohn that had been purchased by an energy company for its water rights.
McGregor moved to Glenwood from Arizona in 1990 to work for the Garfield County planning department before leaving to join the city under former community development director Leslie Klusmire. In 1997, McGregor became the department director himself, overseeing a residential and commercial building boom that has helped define Glenwood Springs as the commerce and tourist destination that it is today.
But, after 26 years of having a hand in shaping the community, McGregor is stepping down to focus on enjoying the things that brought him and wife Ellie Caryl to the Roaring Fork Valley in the first place.
“This is a place we came to for the living, not the work, so it’s time to bring things back into balance,” said McGregor, who concludes his long stint with the city at the end of this week.
“We’re officially calling it a sabbatical,” he said of the likelihood that he’ll re-enter the workforce after a little rest, relaxation, recreation and general peace of mind.
“It was entirely my decision,” he said, noting the arrival in June of a new city manager, Debra Figueroa. “I informed her when she started that I would be leaving. I like Debra, and it’s certainly no reflection on her.”
Likewise, Figueroa applauded McGregor for his accomplishments in Glenwood Springs.
“Andrew did a lot of good work for the city over the years, and he will certainly be missed,” said Figueroa, whose job it will be to hire a successor to oversee the community development department. The application period for the position closed on Friday.
“We are moving on an aggressive timeline to get that position filled, and we hope to have someone on board as soon as possible,” she said.
2 DECADES OF CHANGE
The late 1990s and early 2000s was a period that saw major residential and population growth in Glenwood Springs, as the Park East and West subdivisions, Cardiff Glen and the Terraces developments along the south Midland Avenue corridor all came on line.
Though the individual developments were done in a piecemeal manner, “all the pieces sort of fell into place,” McGregor said of a section of town that now boasts about 25 percent of Glenwood Springs’ residences and amenities such as parks, trails and Sopris Elementary School.
“After those projects, the next frontier was Glenwood Meadows,” McGregor said of the shopping center and mixed-use development proposal that was “not just a little bit controversial.”
Among the concerns was the potential impact on downtown businesses from a major new commercial retail development, the loss of open space, and lingering thoughts that the Wulfsohn site would be better suited for a municipal golf course, as had been proposed in the early 1990s but shot down by city voters.
“It really turned out to be a professional highlight for me, and great learning experience,” McGregor said. “And I do think we did a pretty good job of doing a good, contextual style development there.”
In conjunction with all the development that was happening, the city made a concerted effort to enhance its river trails network.
“I was the city’s point person for getting that built, and it’s really turned into one of the great amenities for the city,” McGregor said. “But the fun part of the job is working with all the fabulous people that helped make all this happen.”
It’s also rare for city planners to stick around long enough to be able to see some of the fruits of their labors.
“It’s such a long-term investment that we tend to work on, so to be able to see these things come to fruition is a real treat,” he said. “And I really give credit to the city’s forefathers for the way the community looks and functions today.”
McGregor said he’s also proud that Glenwood has been able to keep the perimeter of the city largely intact, and often refers to the decision by the Carter Jackson family to put their ranch just south of town into a conservation easement as “the best local land-use decision ever made.” At the same time, the city, through its hillside preservation zoning that was put into place in the late 1990s, has been able to limit development from creeping up the hills that surround Glenwood.
“That’s also been one of the things I think we have done successfully,” he said.
The result of it all is that Glenwood Springs has been able to keep it together better than most amid the ebbs of flows of outside economic influences, McGregor noted.
“We have a strong, diversified economy that doesn’t experience the same highs and lows of other economies,” he said. “And Glenwood has reaped the benefits of growth in Colorado as a whole. There are 5 million people on the Front Range who need a place to go and relax, and we’ve been benefiting from that in the amenities and infrastructure that we’ve been able to create.”
At 58 now, McGregor said he’s ready to take a break and take advantage of some of those amenities as well as the natural surroundings.
“It just seemed like a good time,” he said of his decision to leave amid a new round of intensive infrastructure development, including the construction of the new Grand Avenue bridge and the downtown area redevelopment that will take place in its aftermath.
Also in the works is a rewrite of the city’s development code and a variety of city bridge and street projects that are envisioned as a way to improve vehicle and pedestrian connectivity around Glenwood Springs.
To guide that effort, Figueroa will be looking for the right job applicant who will be asked to oversee the wide range of public and private development that will be coming down the pike.
The city is seeking a new community development director with at least five years of professional experience in community planning with an accredited college or university degree in planning, landscape architecture or related field.
According to a job description posted on the city website, the new director will be in charge of “policy and plan formation for long-range community goals and objectives; preparation of plans, guidelines, project studies, ordinances and other documents to implement policies and objectives; day to day development review and implementation of future land use planning, capital improvement and development planning, municipal code regulations and other special projects and duties as assigned.”
The director is also responsible for managing and staffing the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Historic Preservation Commission, River Commission and the Building Board of Appeals.
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The town would join Aspen and Glenwood Springs in prohibiting flavored tobacco sales and licensing retailers.