Cooperation, funding can make growth boundaries real
The enthusiastic champions of the Glenwood Springs urban growth boundary are, I am afraid, missing the point.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they are missing a key part of the point, that being that a mere line on a map has never, of itself, protected land from the harm that some would do to it.
The notion of choosing an urban growth boundary to help define the extent and character of this town was one of vision, and it represents the best of intentions. Without the funding and policies needed to back it up, however, it will always be a shortsighted vision and will never be anything more than intention.
To actually work as a limit to development, as a means to define the edge of urban growth, and as a way to preserve the open lands outside that edge, an urban growth boundary must be joined with cooperative policies from adjoining governments (in our case, Garfield County) or with funding to purchase land for open space preservation, or both.
Unfortunately, Glenwood Springs has neither.
Until those facts change, an urban growth boundary will never be effective, and it is not worth the effort now being expended to defend it.
The land over which this limits-to-growth debate is now being played out is, of course, the old Four Mile Ranch, or Red Feather Ridge, as its clever would-be developers euphemistically call it. That land is owned by people who fully intend to make money from it.
They can make money by developing it under a plan proposed to the city of Glenwood Springs or under a plan already approved by Garfield County.
Had we the means, as a community, we could help them make money by selling the land for open space preservation and as a healthy defining buffer for the town.
Unfortunately, a narrow majority of voters in Glenwood Springs has refused to approve public funding for open space, three times in the past seven years.
Meanwhile, there is no cooperative agreement between Glenwood Springs and Garfield County to respect, let alone defend, a growth boundary, and the county rarely meets a development proposal that it does not approve.
Some of those now campaigning to stop the city’s plan to develop Red Feather Ridge say that the land should stay the way it is. Others say that they would prefer the lower-density development planned under county jurisdiction.
The land will not stay the way it is unless it is purchased and preserved. The notion that lower-density development is better than higher-density is folly verging on irresponsibility.
Low-density development is the worst form of urban sprawl. Development under the low-density county plan would still impose pavement, fences, loose dogs, and the loss of natural vegetation and wildlife, while providing a handful of inefficient, overpriced trophy homes. That is a double waste of a lovely piece of land.
Development under the plan proposed to the city, while imposing the same impacts and losses, would at least provide more homes affordable by a wider variety of people.
Four Mile Ranch should be preserved as a beautiful expanse of nature and as a respite from the march of development. An effective campaign toward that end, however, cannot be only about lines on maps.
Those who truly want to defend the urban growth boundary must take to the ballot a companion measure that provides public funding for open space purchases and then work like the dickens to finally get that measure approved.
Now is the time to take advantage of momentum and support for preserving Four Mile Ranch and places like it, and get the money to do it. Without a funding campaign, the growth boundary campaign is a noble, but hollow, dream.
Steve Smith of Glenwood Springs works as a consultant to Colorado environmental groups.
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