Guest opinion: Glenwood comprehensive plan doesn’t focus enough on ‘quality of life’

Jon Banks

If you didn’t read the city’s draft comprehensive plan over the holidays, don’t feel bad. At 185 pages, it’s not an easy read. Released in mid-December with comments due Jan. 6, it came at a time when most people were busy with the holidays, family and travel.

The city should extend the comment deadline to allow more community discussion and comment.

It’s a guideline for the city for the next 10 years; it’s focused on development.

In fact, the words “growth” and “develop(ment)” appear 515 times. But the words “quality of life” only appear 25 times. Do we have our priorities straight?

There are sections on Land Use & Growth Management, Economic Development, Transportation, Housing, Public Utilities, Recreation, Natural Resources, Cultural Resources, Climate and Hazards.

There is no section on Quality of Life. There needs to be one.

The closest is the section on Community Character and Vitality; mostly a discussion of the layout and architecture of different neighborhoods in the city.

How did we miss Quality of Life? That’s what Glenwood Springs is all about. We must add a full section on preserving and enhancing Quality of Life. 

There is much discussion of what type of growth, how to grow, where to grow, etc. But no discussion of how much to grow, how fast to grow, or even if we should grow. That’s where the planning should start.

An important issue is completely missing — Are we growing Glenwood Springs for the people who are here, or the people who want to be here? Do the citizens want to continue the scale and pace of recent growth?

This plan changes the Urban Growth Boundary, showing areas the city intends to annex. Some big areas are added south of town — a large area east of the Roaring Fork down to Riverview School and the FedEx depot, and a big area along Four Mile Road. Also some slopes of Lookout Mountain. These areas aren’t specifically discussed; you have to trace the lines on two different maps to spot the changes.

Back In 2003, the City annexed Four Mile Ranch (Red Feather Ridge then), the first development on the left as you head up Four Mile Road. Citizens voted overwhelmingly to reverse the annexation (just like 480 Donegan). The issue was clear … citizens wanted Four Mile Road to remain rural.

Why would the City try to annex it again, now that it’s fully developed at county density? Probably to provide an annexation path to the next property, the large ranch just beyond. That’s also included in the new Urban Growth Boundary. It’s a developer’s dream to get annexed and build to city density. Of course it will be touted as the solution to affordable housing. It won’t be, but that’s what you say to get a project approved. Just like all the apartment buildings.

If the plan wants to disregard the overwhelming sentiment against growth up Four Mile in the 2003 vote, we need a serious discussion, not just a small map in a dense planning document. There is no mention of that vote or justification of annexation up Four Mile road in the plan.

Growth isn’t good or bad; it’s both. Growth brings us new faces, a larger tax base, more retail choices, and more economic vitality (although not enough to keep two supermarkets, apparently).

But growth has downsides, too. And the plan needs to address this tradeoff in more depth. The plan seems to assume that we can manage the growth and deal with the downside. But can we?

Here are some things growth has brought us:

  • Traffic, holy cow, the traffic. Twenty-five years ago, I watched a kid ride his bike across Grand Avenue at Eighth street in the middle of the afternoon. Today, that’s unthinkable.
  • Our water used to come from the virgin No Name/Grizzly watershed. Now we use Roaring Fork water, too. It’s acceptable, but it’s still downstream of every sewage treatment plant and leach field in the Valley.
  • Growth has brought us higher taxes.
  • We lost Spring Clean-Up. Glenwood got too big.
  • Twenty-five years ago, watering restrictions were rare. Now they’re permanent.
  • We’ll lose free parking downtown soon.
  • The landfill is filling up.
  • We may have need another fire station. Grand Avenue traffic is stretching response times.
  • Apartments, not affordable housing, and not owner-occupied. Are we becoming a city of renters, not owners?
  • Schools with classes in the hallways.
  • Remember when Hanging Lake was free, no reservation needed?

I don’t think growth and development are evil, and I try not to look at the past with rose-colored glasses.

But recent votes on the airport and 480 Donegan show that the planners and the government aren’t in touch with the citizens on growth and development issues.

The plan needs a section added recognizing this, and addressing the growth/quality-of-life balance. Most of the future challenges the plan envisions come from growth, yet there is no thought of slowing or restricting growth to help with those challenges.

Jon Banks is a 25-year resident of Glenwood Springs, retired now, raised his daughter Diana here, and says he couldn’t ask for a better place to raise a kid.

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