Friday letters: Carrying capacity, animal shelters, and affordable housing
Housing vs. carrying capacity
Given the renewed discussion about affordable housing in Glenwood Springs, now would be a good time to step back and take a look at a larger housing concern: carrying capacity.
Surprisingly, the number of people we can stack in Glenwood is seldom discussed.
Simply put, carrying capacity is the maximum amount of people that can live in a certain defined area and still have a good quality of life.
The concept is that after supplying all the fundamental needs to a community, there is a tipping point where, due to overpopulation, systems break down and people cease to thrive. I fear that we in Glenwood Springs are nearing that point.
Glenwood is located in one of the narrowest widths of the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s growth depends on navigating around rivers, a railroad, an interstate and Highway 82. Flat, buildable land within the city limits is scarce. We need to be mindful of these barriers as we don’t have the luxury of expanding the town borders. I feel it’s time for you, our leaders, to address carrying capacity as we move forward. As you approve massive apartment complexes in our city, I wonder if any of you consider the concept of carrying capacity? I wonder at what point the city should consider a development moratorium? I’d say the sooner the better.
Currently, there are several large development projects that have been approved (220 units). In the past two years there have been 301 units completed. There are five development projects in the pipeline that will add another 823 units. The above units, when added together, come to 1,344 new living units in Glenwood Springs. Given an average of 2.53 people per unit, Glenwood will have added 2,603 residents in just a few years. In a city of 10,000 souls, that is a population boost of 26%. Add potential projects not yet submitted — 104 units at Vogelaar Park, the airport property, the West Glenwood Mall property, and you should be able to visualize a municipal implosion. We desperately need restrictions on development.
Given the rapid development in our town, the first breach in our quality of life will be transportation.
CDOT, which controls Grand Avenue, will have little choice but to remove parking on Grand Avenue. They will have to gradually increase the speed limit to 40 miles an hour. We will wait at all crossing streets for several minutes before getting 10 seconds to cross or merge. Given this inevitability, I would urge city planners to include a bypass easement in the Confluence Plan. Not to do so would be ignoring the thousands of anticipated daily commuters coming in the not-so-distant future.
Long-term impacts of overpopulation include stress on city services, i.e. police, fire and schools. As you may know, residential units pay only 7% in property taxes. They consume more service dollars than they produce. Therefore, additional residential units in Glenwood will only serve to increase taxes.
Glenwood’s density of 10,000 people packed into approximately 6 square miles is already adding pollutants into the rivers via storm drains. Pollutants include mag chloride, oil, dust and trash. Air inversions happen from time to time. Adding more houses and people will only hasten a declining environment.
The goal of limiting numbers of new residents should include and focus on the ecology of the systems within Glenwood Springs.
The city owns quite a few buildable acres. Going forward, I believe there will be pressure to develop the property that we citizens own via public/private arrangements. I’m against using our real estate equity to provide for more people, affordable or otherwise.
California was once one of the most desirable places on earth to live. Through mindless growth and expansion, they are making paradise undesirable in many places. I would hope we are smarter than that. Surely, we can learn from their mistakes and take a proactive approach to growth before we reach the rapidly approaching tipping point. Can any of you state the ideal population for Glenwood?
Recently, the city completed the 2020-25 Strategic Plan. The first paragraph of the plan states the Strategic Vision for Glenwood Springs’ future.
It reads: The city of Glenwood Springs desires to maintain its small-town character and to preserve its cultural and natural resources. Implementing a proactive plan that achieves directed and balanced development, social and economic diversity and addresses transportation needs will (sic) move the city forward.
While I appreciate the time and energy spent on affordable housing, I feel we have a classic “forest for the trees” situation. Overpopulation of our precious town may not appear as pressing as some immediate issues, but I assure you the vitality of our town depends on actionable steps to stem the tide. Please consider a development moratorium.
Animal shelters a valuable resource
For much of history, cities’ animal services swept stray dogs and cats off the streets, brought them to the pound and put them to death.
It was not necessarily heartlessness; there was a well-founded fear of rabies. In the mid-19th century, New York City adopted a policy of drowning stray dogs that were not claimed. By the 1970s, the Humane Society estimated that 25% of the nation’s dogs were out on the streets, and that 13.5 million animals were euthanized annually.
Due to a (very) slow sea change, the municipal pound has had the opportunity to evolve into something other than a clearing house of unwanted animals. Many shelters in the United States continue to perform euthanasia. But there is good news.
Best Friends Animal Society has initiated a bold national No Homeless Pets campaign by 2025. The Socially Conscious Animal Welfare Organization has given voice to many animal shelters across the country by defining standards of animal care. In the Roaring Fork Valley stray animals are often returned home or rehabilitated rather than euthanized.
Thanks to the commitment of our Garfield County shelters, we are experiencing the benefits of a socially conscious animal shelter. Animal shelters as resources could be as stabilizing an influence as the neighborhood library. Why not offer hospice, a program of medical and emotional support, to families that for either financial or emotional reasons are unable to care for their dying pet? Bereaved pet owners may be able to keep their pet at home. Why not support homeless and low-income members of our community by offering access to pet food banks and low cost or even free vaccines?
Often, the homeless pet is the last lifeline for many of these members of our communities. Why not implement comprehensive animal education programs in our schools? In a world rife with uncertainty, it will be the children that elevate our communities. Finally, why not rely on the animal shelters as resources as a model for compassionate and transparent care of our community animals and, perhaps, even each other?
Cathi J. Basler
board member, Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE)
Born and raised in the valley, I have witnessed the unbelievable increase in property values. I understand the difficulties of owning a home in this highly desirable area. I agree something needs to be done to retain teachers, civil workers and first responders; however, should it solely be the financial burden of the developer? As a local builder of two housing developments in Glenwood Springs (2004, 2008), I was required to participate in the inclusionary housing program. While providing three deed-restricted units for sale, including one to a teacher, the financial loss compared to market value at the time exceeded $104,800, leaving construction costs higher than sale prices.
If the financial loss wasn’t enough, after speaking with one of the recipients last summer, I found out the deed restriction had been removed. The city did require the recipient repay less than a nominal $800 fee to dissolve the deed restriction.
This minimal payment not only reimbursed the city for waived fees, but it allowed the recipient to profit more than $140,000 on the market value sale, leaving me dumfounded. I mistakenly thought these three deed-restricted units were fixed in perpetuity for the benefit of future lottery winners within the required inclusionary housing program.
Why was the deed restriction removed? How was the city able to remove the restriction? How many other units within the program had the deed restriction removed? Why would the city facilitate this generous windfall to the recipient at the expense of the developer and now discuss the importance of affordable housing? With the need for “affordable” ownership (not renting), I can’t believe this was allowed to happen.
As a developer I’m willing to do my part; but if the community is losing teachers and critical workers based on housing, then I believe the burden should be shared by development and the community equitably. This problem is going to take a multifaceted solution with multiple players.
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