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Protect open space and ‘messy vitality’

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By Chris Hassig

Finally, past the musical chairs of elections and Stacy’s lamented move up the Crystal, Carbondale is settled in with a well-qualified, dynamic, and level-headed board of trustees for the next year at least. I can’t think of a better moment to tackle some tough issues.

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The toughest issues facing this board are intertwined and familiar: growth, affordable housing and community character. Let’s start, roughly, with growth. It’s happening fast.

Many people are in for a bitter surprise when City Market’s architectural facsimile of Glenwood Meadows opens in the middle of the CRMS field. Somehow passed with little public input or interest (I’m myself the first guilty of dumbly standing by), the approved project steamrolls many of the sticking points of previous iterations – a thoroughly suburban layout punched out of the middle of the site, a Nieslanik as opposed to Industry Place entrance, an El Jebel City Market-sized footprint but with a nearly two storey box profile, no solar panels on top, and no housing or mixed-use synergies. Basically, no creativity at all. And no one I talk to seems to know anything about it.

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Elsewhere, the approvals are mostly in for River’s Edge, an El Jebel 2.0 at the CMC turnoff, already receiving your subsidy in the form of a new $34.5 million school. Another yawn. The vast majority of the valley floor remains unprotected from development. The rural character of Garfield County outside the town limits slowly gets chiseled away.

Just the other day I rounded Road 100 from Catherine Store where it opens up to that wonderful bucolic view of the protected Coffman Ranch and Sunlight Mountain beyond – only to find a new house in the cruelly ironic “Roaring Fork Preserve” subdivision beyond despoiling it forever.

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So we’re losing – have probably lost – some open space battles, and there may not be much to do about it, but there are more to come. It’s time to consider ways of creating better development controls in our corner of Garfield County. I don’t need to dictate to Rifle how to go about its development, but we should be able to better steer our own fate – a fate we have no voice in now with three commissioners that have a reasonable sympathy for the economic concerns of western Garfield County. Perhaps there’s a way of creating an open space and development planning overlay that just concerns the area of the county this side of Glenwood? Carbondale should take the lead in exploring ways to get more real input – in sales tax leakage, traffic, quality of life and environment, and local agency, we have the most to lose.

Affordable housing is another burr in that growth equation. The economic view is that this is a simple matter of supply and demand. I don’t think growth out of town will help us — those developments promise more upscale options, not affordable ones. How do we protect what we’ve got?

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Here’s my radical, but, I’d argue, necessary idea to protect our affordable housing and community character: a referendum to zone the entirety of town “Resident Occupied.” You either have to live in your house or rent it out. No second homes. Why do this? It is the only way I can see of realistically stemming the tide of real estate speculation.

Why is this in your interest? You’re reading The Sun, so I imagine you have a vested interest in the character of this town, you live here. Yes, it would lessen the potential payoff if you sell out and leave, but we like you, don’t leave! Your taxes hopefully won’t go up as fast and, if you need, you can still rent your property for a stable, reasonable income.

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The example of Aspen is not far away, and that future is not out of the question for us. The great tragedy of Aspen is the rows and rows of zombie houses that twitch three weeks a year – otherwise the lights are on, but nobody’s home. And the soul of the town is a shadow of its former self. If you truly care about Carbondale – if you see it as home, not as a speculative investment – this is worth figuring out how to do. Once the balance swings to second homes, there’s no going back.

Those are the two proposals I’d most like to see explored by the new board. But there’s some unfinished business as well: ban remotely owned Airbnb properties already. At least get some lights put up where Erica got attacked. Keep pushing the climate plan forward. And keep supporting the Carbondale Creative District, especially the aspects that actually help people make things here, not just exploit the touristic potential. Don’t get sidetracked trying to ‘beautify’ everything. Messy vitality is messy.

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Dan, Marty, Katrina, Erica, Frosty, Ben and Heather: thanks for doing the hard work of representing us.