Carbondale's community connector

A beautiful place at odds with its own future

Locations: Columns Published

I love Carbondale and the Roaring Fork Valley!

Where else can you find four known rivers converging, Mt. Sopris’ constant vigil over us all and cattle walking down Main Street? The mix of friendly and caring folks all around gives somewhat of a mirror image of being in New Zealand, a place where people still care about people and the God they worship. I did not realize such a place existed in America yet have found the calm, peace and warm openness nestled here on the Western Slope. Carbondale is an amazing and very special gift to us all. So when I am in conversations about Carbondale and its future there seems to always be a mysterious viewpoint of a Town vs. new ideas, development and new sources of (apparently much needed) sales tax revenue.

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I remember when I first arrived in Carbondale almost a year ago the resounding message to me was “don’t try to improve anything in Carbondale as the Town, its Trustees and its citizens will vote it right down.” I found that an educational moment but also could not fully accept what I was hearing. From dozens of conversations with town folks I kept being told that Carbondale never wanted to change a thing. While at some level this is certainly understandable it is also confounding when one sees the development and growth happening north and south of us while Carbondale seemingly ponders and ponders away. To maintain all the wonderful characteristics of the place we love one must accept change as only change can bring the funds for keeping the charm and uniqueness of our town intact.

Most conversations for the future end the proverbial question of “how will we pay for that?” Colorado’s structure of smaller towns living on sales tax revenue puts a focus on retail activity and plenty of foot traffic. In speaking with some business leaders I learned that the only real foot traffic comes with the cattle drives through town. If only cattle had money to buy things!

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Our beloved Main Street is about two blocks short of being a retail success. More reasons are needed for people to linger a while before or after enjoying our great eateries and the easily found peace of walking through town. The solutions to a vibrant retail and restaurant downtown existence are within reach and achievable. So why, in the view of the vast majority of people I have talked with, is the problem with this thinking always “new ideas will get voted down?”

It has been pointed out to me that there is an extremely difficult, adversarial and expensive process new development must go through to have a prayer of getting approved. I have also learned that the percentage requirement for affordable housing is the highest in the Valley (Glenwood Springs just eliminated this requirement entirely). I understand that the fees charged by the city are also way out of whack. Simple math says that accepting the current terms and conditions by a developer or current business means going into a project with a high risk of losing money and/or using the cheapest materials possible to make reasonable return.

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I was amazed to learn that the Town and the trustees of past were also willing to risk a major portion of the town’s revenue by delaying the City Market project. Is this effective caretaking for the good of the majority of the town? Or are steps like this a private town leadership agenda that could add the word ghost before town?

I have not yet discovered what the town leadership is trying to protect and why there is a perception it is so seemingly antagonistic towards revenue producing improvements and change. Our beautiful rivers will remain, Mt. Sopris is not going anywhere and, as the ranchers will surely tell you, they are not converting to raising salmon, so just what is being protected? Why are other towns bursting with activity while all we have seen is the bulldozer, grass and new fencing?

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Are we saying we do not want new things in our town? Do we not want to continue the many special events sponsored by the town and merchants (Mountain Fair, Potato Day, 4th of July, 5 Point Film Festival, First Friday, Oktoberfest, etc.), all funded by tax revenue? Do we not want people to come visit our special town?

It is a mistake to continue operating in the past and pretending we have a Carbondale Mint to print the monies needed to run the town. What is needed is a friendly, cohesive, cooperative and integrated future plan for the majority of our citizens. Carbondale needs an openness and willingness by its leaders to listen and act positively while not building obstacles for the sake of creating them.

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Some of the folks around here remember the impact of the mines closing down. That could be the town’s outcome. Like you, I would vote for that not to happen again with a willing and prepared Carbondale leadership that wants to secure the town’s future vitality. Establishing this robustness and maintaining the character and charm of Carbondale can only be funded by new development and the expansion of businesses already making significant contributions.

John Runne has spent several years working to improve public and private companies and also painted and published original art that has gained regional and national recognition.

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