Update Sept 2015 – Budget, Homeless, and More!

I am five months into my four-year term of serving you as Councilor-at-large on Glenwood Springs City Council. It is a privilege to be a part of such a great city and I am honored to work with other city council members, city staff, local business and citizens to help guide Glenwood through the next three and a half years.  It is likely to be some of the best times that Glenwood has seen, as well as some of the most difficult. 

One of my election promises was better communication and I have not been as good at that as I had hoped.  So, to that end, as a start I plan to provide a monthly update that will include a brief description of meetings and events I have attended as well as a bit about one or more city departments.  Sometimes it may seem like nothing is happening and things do move more slowly than we all would like. But picture a duck on the Colorado River.  On the top, the duck looks calm and seems to be floating along, but below the surface, that duck’s feet are paddling like crazy.  So goes it with city hall.

Finance Department

Charles KeltySince we are deep into budget season, the first department I would like to highlight is the Finance Department, headed by Charles Kelty. Charles took over the reins from Mike Harman who retired earlier this year after 24 years as the Finance Director. Charles spent nine years as the finance director in Rifle and had a Master’s Degree in Accounting. Finance handles all of the city’s payroll, utility billing, tax administration, purchasing and building maintenance as well as making sure the city’s bills are paid and collecting funds owed to the city.

Staff includes Yvette Gustad, Assistant Finance Director; Ricky Smith, Purchasing Agent; Karen Bender, Janice Palacio, Linda Millyard and Candie Vandermark, all Senior Accounting Techs and Martha Gonzales and Elida Trujillo Solano the ladies who keep city hall sparkling clean. When you come to pay your utility bills or pick up a bus pass, these are the staff you see and are often the main contact for people dealing with city hall.

Taking the city through the budget process is no easy task and involves hours of the finance department’s time as well as a great deal of time from City Manager Jeff Hecksel and all department supervisors. Beginning Sept 29, the city will begin holding meetings with City Council, the Financial Advisory Board, and department heads to review the proposed budget, line by line. A schedule of these meetings is provided below. These are public meetings and the public is encouraged to attend.  A preliminary draft budget should be available on the City’s website when the budget work sessions begin.

Budget Work Session Schedule:

Sept 29 – 5pm -7 pm

Oct 8Special Meeting, DDA & Budget 6pm-9pm

Oct 154pm – 6pm

Oct 20Special Meeting 6pm-9pm

Oct 29Special Meeting 6pm-9pm

Nov 5if needed

All budget work sessions will be held in council chambers at city hall.

Monthly Update – meetings and events I attended

Grand Ave Bridge:  Met with representatives from Glenwood Springs Chamber, CDOT, DDA and city staff to discuss public information plans for the Grand Avenue Bridge Project August 27 2015.

Transportation Commission Sept 1, 2015:  I serve as the alternate council liaison to this commission.  Mayor Mike Gamba is the liaison.  Discussion items included the Blake Avenue Gate between Walmart and the RFTA BRT station on 27th as well as traffic calming measures on the residential streets in the downtown area.  Terri Partch, City Engineer and Geoff Guthrie, City Transportation Manager discussed the proposed multi-use path along Midland, from Lowes to Interchange 114, 27th Street Bridge and touched on RFTA’s Access Control Plan.  They updated on the Grand Avenue Bridge and 8th Street extension projects as well as discussing who will represent this commission on the Acquisitions and Improvement (A&I) tax working group.  The Transportation Commission is finalizing the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) and determining next steps.  This commission always has a great deal to discuss and it seems like never enough time!

Ride-along with GSPD Sept 4, 2015:  I was privileged to be able to ride and walk with several officers from the police department  from 6 p.m. to about 2:30 a.m. It was a great experience, one I hope to do again. You can read more about my thoughts here.  My thanks to Officers Noel, Crawford, Cole, Gobbo, Miller, Dietrich, Yorty,  and Lawson as well as Code Enforcement Officer Springer, Detective Sergeant Hassell, and Patrol Sergeant Prough for putting up with all of my questions and taking the time to talk with me.

Colorado Municipal League (CML) District 11 Meeting in Silt Sept 9, 2015:  CML provides  training and information on issues of concern to counties and municipalities.  It is also a great chance to talk with other staff and elected officials from other communities in our area. Mayor Rick Aluise presented a wonderful powerpoint on the accomplishments that have taken place in Silt in the recent year.

Roaring Fork Transit Authority Board Meeting (RFTA) Sept 10, 2015:  I serve as the alternate council liaison to this board.  Mayor Mike Gamba is the liaison.  Discussion items included a presentation of the first draft of RFTA’s 2016 budget and an update of the Rio Grande Corridor Access Control Plan.  License for access to the Rio Grande Trail was granted to ACES Rock Bottom Ranch

Take Back Your Power Sept 10, 2015:  At the invitation of Marilyn Shettel, I attended a screening of a documentary “Take Back Your Power.”  It raised some interesting questions and I will be talking more with Ms. Shuttle in the near future.

We’ve Got Your Back!  Sept. 11, 2015:  This was a hastily thrown together “thank you” to area law enforcement and first responders in our region from Aspen to Parachute.  For being planned in less than 36 hours, it was well attended.  I have received requests from community members to turn this into an annual event and make it bigger. We’ll work on that!

Club 20 Fall Meeting Sept. 12, 2015:  This was my first Club 20 meeting and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet on things happening statewide and nationally. I also received lessons from Henry Sobanet, Governor Hickenlooper’s Budget Director on Colorado’s fiscal challenges and from Mark Hermundstad on water regulations and impacts on Colorado’s Western Slope. The networking was also wonderful!

Garfield County Economic Development Partners Sept 16, 2015:  This is a group of staff and elected officials from various entities throughout Garfield County that meet quarterly to review what is happening in Garfield County. RFTA presented their 2015 Travel Plan Study.  The roundtable is particularly useful to know what other communities are working on and to provide opportunities for partnership and coordination.

In addition we have had two City Council meetings which included a work session on the Confluence Area and a work session with the Planning and Zoning Commission.

***MARK YOUR CALENDARS***

Community Discussion: The Effect of the Growing Homeless & Vagrant Population in Glenwood Springs

Monday, October 5, 2015

6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Glenwood Springs Community Center

Coming up this week: 

Planning & Zoning Commission Meeting Tuesday, Sept. 22

City Staff Employee Picnic Friday, Sept 25 – City Hall closed from Noon to 2 p.m.

Fire Department’s Open House Saturday Sept 26!  The Fire Department’s Open House is always fun for all ages so come on down from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the downtown fire station at 8th & Cooper.

Board and Commission Openings:  apply here!

Planning and Zoning:  1 Alternate

River Commission: 1 Alternate

Victims and Witness Assistance & Law Enforcement Board (VALE): 1 Alternate

Board of Appeals: 1 Alternate

Parks and Recreation: 1 Alternate

Old Library . . . new ideas

Glenwood’s downtown is an award winner!

Last Thursday,  Downtown Colorado Inc. announced that the Downtown Development Authority was one of four winners of “Best Group Effort” Award for Downtown Excellence.  What a wonderful accolade for Leslie Bethel and the DDA and the City of Glenwood!  The energy and momentum for Glenwood, not only downtown, is exciting.  When my family and I went to dinner last Friday at the Glenwood Canyon Brew Pub, the downtown streets were alive with people of all ages enjoying the evening and bringing strength to Glenwood’s economy. 

Problem in Paradise

Old Glenwood Springs Library

Vacant former Glenwood Springs Library Building at 9th and Blake.

However, empty buildings and storefronts in the downtown area present a problem.  They can become unsightly due to lack of maintenance and they present a less than vibrant image.  Glenwood is fortunate to have less empty space than many small towns, but what does exist  still presents a problem.

Front entrance to old library building

Last Thursday evening, City Council had the second reading of an ordinance authorizing the sale of the vacant library building at 9th and Blake and referring the question to voters in November.  Although the city has not committed to putting the building up for sale, the discussion continues as to what should be done with this building.  I commend City Council for asking the question, and, according to the Post Independent, many ideas were presented at the June 5 Council meeting including a senior center, a new museum, or a concept similar to Carbondale’s Third Street Center.  Others suggested a joint use by several non-profits for meeting space, office space and programing needs.  Use by the Salvation Army was put forth as well.  The Salvation Army made a second request for use of the building for, as I understand, offices and a distribution center at the July 17 City Council meeting.  

Careful Consideration

Determining the best use for this building or parcel should be done thoughtfully and deliberately.

It might be wise for City Council to use the City’s Comprehensive Plan as guidance in this matter. The  Comp Plan was the fruition of many meetings with stakeholders in the community as well as citizen charrettes and brainstorming sessions, and I believe, distills the wishes and values of the community. 

Comp_Plan_CoverrThe Comp Plan lists nine goals:

1. Promote long-term, sustainable, diverse economic development

2. Maintain Glenwood Springs as the regional tourism, retail, commercial and governmental center of Garfield County

3. Preserve the small town character while maintaining the livability of Glenwood Springs and increasing the vibrancy and commercial success of the Downtown

4. Address transportation needs and provide multiple convenient travel choices

5. Direct development to locations and building forms that are cost-effective to serve

6. Provide housing for the entire community

7. Support social diversity

8. Preserve cultural resources

9. Preserve natural resources

Historic Residential Area near old library 9th & Blake

Historic neighborhood surrounding former library building.

The area at 9th and Blake is a difficult, transitional area as part of the downtown area and the surrounding  historical residential area. The use of that building could have a tremendous impact on the downtown and those neighborhoods nearby. 

Best Use?

The use of the building by the Salvation Army, Lift Up, Feed My Sheep or a host of other similar groups may be altruistic, but it does not  fit with the goals identified in the Comp Plan. However, some non-profit uses could fit well into this area  Downtown Glenwood Springs has the momentum to make Glenwood into even more of a destination resort than ever.  The use of the old library building must be weighed very carefully. Even a temporary use of the wrong kind could be an enormous mistake.  Once a use is in place, it can be very difficult to change.

Blake and 9th looking south

Looking south on Blake from the corner of 9th and Blake

The RIGHT non-profit could be a perfect addition to that area.   Whatever the use of that building or parcel, it must contribute to the vitality and economic development of the downtown and insure that Glenwood Springs is a regional hub for tourism and retail.  It should also fit the small town character that so many want preserved. Maybe . . . just maybe . . . the best use for that building has not even been envisioned yet.  Glenwood Springs folks are a creative bunch – so perhaps it is time to get even more creative.

I urge City Council to act very carefully if they choose to keep and lease this building. Any use is going to have a tremendous long-range impact. Let’s find a use that moves Glenwood’s economy forward. I agree that the Salvation Army needs a new home, but not this building.

 

Survey: What Attracts Workers & Businesses?

Survey: What Attracts Workers & Businesses?

 

Place Value: an economic study exploring what attracts workers and businesses to communities in our region.

 

Community Builders, a project of the Sonoran Institute, is working on an economic study exploring what attracts workers and businesses to communities in our region, to understand how community character relates to local economic prosperity. As a part of this study,  Community Builders invites employers, employees and current students take part in the survey.  Your participation will help us understand what attracts businesses, entrepreneurs and employees to communities like yours, as well as the key factors they consider when relocating to a new location. Thank you in advance for your assistance with this study!

 

  1. If you are a business-owner or manager, please complete THIS SURVEY. It contains questions about your organization as a whole, and should be completed by you or someone knowledgeable about your organization’s operations and business location decisions.
  2. If you are an employee, please complete THIS SURVEY. If you are an employer, please distribute this survey to all employees with digital access at work. We have provided a link to the survey along with a sample email invitation you can use or adapt below.
  3. If you are currently a student at a college or university, please complete THIS SURVEY.

 

Each survey takes only 5 minutes to complete, and respondents will be entered in a drawing for a $50 prize.

 

Community Builders hope is that the findings of this study can inform your community’s planning and economic development efforts, by providing the Chamber, as well as local decision-makers, developers, realtors and other entities with a better understanding of what businesses and people seek in deciding where to locate. We can send you copies of the report and/or present findings in your community if desired. Check in at http://communitybuilders.net/placevalue in summer 2014 to view our final results.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Jennifer Hill at jhill@sonoraninstitute.org or 970-928-3412, or Alison Berry at aberry@sonoraninstitute.org or 406-587-7331. Again, thanks very much, in advance, for your participation!

 

 

Are We Strangling Economic Development?

Recently I wrote an article for an on-line magazine geared toward planners, primarily citizen planners like me.  We are the ones with lots of passion – usually – for our cities and towns.  We may have some experience with development, real estate, engineering, law, water, business, local government or we may simply have passion.  The article was circulated among several groups on LinkedIn and surprisingly generated quite a bit of comment from planners and economic development folks across the country.

What follows is a condensed version, but I am interested to know what the residents of Glenwood and Garfield County think.   

strangling-cartoon-imageOver a year ago, the Glenwood Springs (Colorado) Community Development Department and the Planning and Zoning Commission were directed by City Council to review and recommend changes to the planning and entitlement process. Several Council members expressed concern and frustration over the complexity and ambiguity of the process and the level of risk that potential developers were taking in order to complete a project.

Does the approval process require such an extensive knowledge of code, rules, regulations and procedures that it requires the assistance of an attorney or other professional to guide an applicant? Is it the process strangling economic development?

In 2003, similar sentiments were expressed by a group of architects in Denver calling them selves Citizens to Streamline Our Permitting Process (STOPP). Their report entitled “Denver’s Development Review Process: Can It Be Fixed?” to then Mayor John Hickenlooper outlining issues that needed to be addressed.  1

As the introduction to the report stated, “… it only take a few reversals of agreements or approvals, a few lengthy delays in review, a few conflicts between agency requirements, to turn the process into a nightmare.”

I have a fair understanding of the process that community planners and development departments must complete to ensure compliance with code and comprehensive plans. It is necessary that due diligence has been exercised in review of a project.

However, are developers being forced to jump through costly, time consuming, and, at least in their viewpoint, unnecessary hoops by planning officials, department heads, and, in some cases, by planning commissioners as well? Does the approval process require such an extensive knowledge of code, rules, regulations, and procedures that it requires the assistance of an attorney or other professional to guide an applicant, effectively making the entire process too costly for smaller developers?

Some of the issues and concerns identified by our Glenwood Springs city council members included:

  • Reduce inequity of the review process by treating everyone equally and fairly
  • Enhance lines of communication between council, staff, and the planning commissioners. (Our municipal code does not allow city council members to appear personally before the City Council or any Board or Commission).
  • Reduce some risk to the applicant by increasing clarity in what is expected.
  • Lengthen the process if necessary to gain “buy-in” and entitlements prior to the end of the process. 2
  • Confusing and often conflicting codes lead to inconsistent and subjective application by staff, misunderstanding by the applicant and uncertainty by the planning commission. This was by no means the entire list but the direction was clear. Applicants needed to know what was expected of them and, in turn, what they could expect as the outcome of the process.

Denver’s STOPP Report

In Denver’s STOPP report, some of the same issues were identified:

  • The system promotes inequities. Those with more resources achieve success, often eliminating the “little guy”.
  • Too much emphasis is placed on quantified standards and not enough on reasonably meeting the objectives the standards address.
  • Lack of coordinated, comprehensive response from reviewing agencies.
  • Additional details being required late in the process.
  • Inconsistent review team. Department personnel assigned to review a project varies and with them interpretation of requirements.
  • Excessive up-front detail and engineering required for conceptual review and to achieve basic entitlements. 3 To be fair to Denver, their development code has and is continuing to undergo revision public hearings taking place now. According to the Denver Community Planning and Development website, 4 adoption is expected to take two to three months.

Slow & Careful Progress

As with most things, the wheels of progress move slowly. In November 2013, the Glenwood Springs City Council passed several changes to our development code. One was a provision to allow City Council to remand an application back to the Planning and Zoning Commission if the applicant is including new information that has not been vetted by the Commission.

Probably the most significant change so far has been to the process timeframe. The application process has been lengthened by two weeks (to allow time for a pre-application meeting between the applicant and staff and representatives from other city departmentschecklist-green-check-mark-square2.

Additionally, the Community Development Department has created flow charts to better clarify how the application moves through the system. Check-lists have also been developed to ensure that all necessary information is included in the application. The checklists will be reviewed and adopted by city council by resolution to allow for easier revision.

While these changes move toward the goals city council set, they do not , as several council members observed,  provide the applicant with earlier entitlements or vesting.

Items that are in process, but incomplete, include a specification manual that will clearly spell out goals and objectives, necessary elements, and what items — if not in compliance by the applicant — will require a variance or will simply not allow the project to move forward.

Glenwood Is Not Denver

Glenwood Spring is not the City and County of Denver – not even close.  But it became apparent to me after reading comments from throughout the country that Glenwood – and Denver – are not alone in their desire to create a more user-friendly atmosphere.

This comment on LinkedIn  from Paula Daneluk, with enCode 360, summed up the thoughts that were expressed by many people:

“Developers and the average citizen alike benefit when the regulations are clear and easy to understand. If it takes a degree in statistics or biology to understand the regulations, no one is going to be able to move through the process easily. Consistency is the key though. How a regulation is interpreted is important. It should be applied the same whether the community likes who is applying or not.

The attitude of the agency’s staff towards development is also key. If there is an attitude of service and working in cooperation to move projects through the process, then projects get approved and economic development occurs. If the overall attitude is more akin a gatekeeper where the planners in the organization are looking for things to use as a rejection or reason to delay the project, then the whole experience becomes a drawn out adversarial battle.

A majority of applicants, professional developers and the average citizens alike never read a jurisdiction’s regulations before deciding what they want to do. They draw up their dream and submit it, hoping that it will be a smooth process. An agency where the planners are able to keep a priority on assisting people through the process and educating them about the requirements will be successful.”

Are we strangling economic development through too onerous of processes? There is no question that some level of standards must be maintained. However, it is important to look at and understand the objectives of those standards and determine whether, in this economy, in this place, at this time, the requirements we place on developers are beneficial to the community.

It is certainly true, as our Community Development Director, Andrew McGregor, has stated, it is easier to loosen regulations than to tighten them. And we all want a beautiful vibrant community that speaks to who we are. But have local governments tightened regulations and processes to the point that it is simply not feasible for developers to move even traditional projects forward, let alone ones that might be innovative and a bit out of the ordinary … ones that might be a catalyst for further economic growth for our communities?

What do you think?  Does the same apply to Garfield County?  How about Rifle or Carbondale?  Let’s talk about it!  

Notes:

 1. Architects outline problems with city review process” (Denver Business Journal, Nov. 23, 2003).

2. This can be a complex and confusing point. Most commonly used in land development, entitlements are the right to develop a property for the desired use. “Buy-in,” from the view of some city council members, is not an entitlement but more of an educated guess, based on reasonable assumptions staff could provide to an applicant. This would be based on the broad view of a project and include major issues like building footprint, height, setbacks, required parking, and landscaping requirements. It could also include utility connections, stormwater mitigation, vehicle and pedestrian access, and architectural style, among others. Also at this point, probable variances could be identified. If there were non-negotiable items required by the city, then those could be identified to allow the applicant to decide early on whether the project was feasible as proposed. As the project progresses and more detail is provided, along with further review and analysis (unless the original assumptions were proven to be incorrect ), staff would stand by their original buy-in and not reverse or significantly change it without justification.

3. Developers often create a Sketch Plan which is an early first draft of the proposed development. The Sketch Plan does not show engineering detail. Often developers are being required to present a more extensive plan, showing engineering detail, design detail, landscaping and other components, prior to coming before the Planning Commission or City Council for a conceptual review or to proceed with the application.

4. Denver Community Planning and Development website

 

 

 

Getting to YES on 7th Street!

YES!In the early 1980’s Roger Fischer & William Ury authored the best-selling book, “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.”  It has been used in countless negotiations, from those at Camp David to those in the bedroom.  The main concept is “bargain over interests rather than position.”   Interests can be defined at the “why” while position is the “what”.  

Interest vs. Position

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) website designed to explain the art of negotiations to students explains this very clearly with an illustration I will paraphrase. Two chefs were arguing over the last orange. Both needed the orange to complete their recipe.  As a compromise, the chefs agreed to cut the orange in half.  One chef squeezed the juice from his half of the orange into his recipe.  It was not enough, but it would have to do.  The other used the orange zest from her half in her recipe.  It was not as much as the recipe called for, but again, it would have to do.  orange

http://web.mit.edu/negotiation/www/NBivsp.html  

Clearly, if the chefs had talked about their interest – why they needed the orange, rather than the orange itself, both would have had a much more satisfactory result.

Yes to Vitality

Last Thursday evening the negotiations and discussion ran quite late regarding the proposed outdoor seating policy and the 7th Street Sidewalk Expansion.  In the end, City Council got to “Yes” and gave their blessing for the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to move forward with plans to widen the sidewalks on the south side of 7th Street between Blake and Grand to 18 feet.  This will allow restaurants along 7th to provide the option of outdoor seating for their customers.

Juicy Lucys 6-15-13 with roof deck - smaller

I do not think there was a person in that room who had an issue with the “why” of this project.   Glenwood needs to do whatever it possibly can to continue to create a vibrant, active downtown, which will benefit the entire community.  Wider sidewalks that create a pedestrian friendly district, further enhanced by landscaping and appropriate lighting will serve to bring people into the downtown. The outdoor dining will make them want to stay and linger.   The sticking point was the “what.”    The what, in this case, was the raised patio that may be needed by the Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company, as well as others, to create a level seating area as this concept is expanded.

Due to the severity ofBrew Pub expanded sidewalk the slope, it is possible that at least one of these patios would need to be permanent which is causing City staff as well as at least one council member some heartburn. The issue became whether public funds should be used to create an amenity that is used by a private business.   In the end, it was the “why” – the need for an energetic downtown that was the priority over the “what” for Council.  The vote was six to one, with Mayor Leo McKinney casting the only dissenting vote.

Caution and Assurance

Only one person, Jon Zalinski, owner of TreadZ, cautioned council members that a line should be drawn and all business owners given a similar opportunity.  From comments that were part of the public meeting,  as well as discussions during breaks and after, it was clear that the intent of both the DDA and City Council is to continue to make improvements throughout the downtown area to help those businesses attract customers. To paraphrase what several council members said;   benefits to the businesses in the downtown would benefit all of Glenwood Springs.   Areas that were specifically discussed were Cooper Avenue, 6th Street and the areas along 8th and 9th, east and west of Grand Avenue. 

As Leslie Bethel clarified in her response to my previous post, approximately half of the $800,000 from the county will still be used for improvements to the parking area south of the fire station as well as streetscaping along Cooper from the new parking structure to the library building.  

Trust Issues?

In an article on Forbes.com, Keld Jensen, a Forbes contributor who “writes about negotiation, behavioral economics and trust” maintains that in spite of 30 years of using the “Getting to Yes” theory, negotiations and collaboration flounder.  

 http://www.forbes.com/sites/keldjensen/2013/02/05/why-negotiators-still-arent-getting-to-yes/

He states that our biggest problem in negotiations and collaboration is a lack of trust in other people.   The citizens of Glenwood Springs as well as the business owners must now trust the DDA and Council to do the right thing and continue their work to make downtown Glenwood the crown jewel of the city.  Don’t let us down!

What else can be done?

Café_de_Flore jpg

 

Cafe de Flore, Paris. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Let me know what you think of this decision.  Besides relocating SH 82, what else would you like to see done in the downtown area to improve vitality: Street vendors, more street markets?  Do you think the current Street Design Standards of an eight foot pedestrian walkway are excessive?  Could sidewalks that are eight to nine feet also serve additional uses, like outdoor seating or merchandise display without truly creating a safety issue? Would Glenwood be wise to lose additional on-street parking to widen sidewalks in other areas?  Keep the discussion going to make sure your voice is heard!

Affording to buy in: The challenge of retaining talent in desirable communities

The following is a reprint  – with permission – of a guest column that Jillian Sutherland of the Sonoran Institute wrote for the Aspen Daily News.  This issue is truly a “sticky wicket.”   The idea that one must live and work in the same community to have a true commitment to the community may be very valid.   How to get there is another story.    Is inclusionary zoning the answer?  How about incentives?  There are plenty of tools in the toolkit, but which ones work the best and do not overburden one entity? I would be very interested in hearing your ideas. Please leave us a comment.  Thanks!  Kathy Trauger

 

Affording to buy in: The challenge of retaining talent in desirable communities

 Jillian Sutherland

Special to the Aspen Daily News

A strong local economy needs strong business. Strong business needs a skilled workforce. That’s why a current hot topic in the economic development world is the importance of attracting talent for sustained economic success. For any community, attracting talent requires amenities, cultural identity, and placemaking, all of which are critical components of communities where people want to live.

But what happens when your community is pretty good at all of the above, but has become so desirable that very few can afford to live there? Call it what you want: gentrification, progress, displacement or affluence — the reality is, when a place transforms into something really special, real estate prices begin to soar beyond the reach of many.

I recently had a conversation with Don Ensign, one of the founders of Design Workshop, a landscape architecture and urban design firm that got its start in Aspen. He said one of the main challenges he faced as a business owner was retaining talent once his employees built up a few years of experience with his firm. Here’s what he had to say:

“The perilous economic upshot of disappearing affordable housing is the impact on public, non-profit and low-wage employee retention, key ingredients for a healthy local economy. Absent proximate affordable housing, employees are obliged to go ever greater distance seeking affordability. These folks sacrifice family life quality, incur additional commuting expense and endure unproductive commuting hours — the unhappy predicament resulting in high worker turn-over.”

To recruit and retain businesses (and the talented individuals that will make that that business grow) a community has to be special, but it has to be attainable. Plain and simple: If a person cannot afford to “buy-in” to the community where they work, they’re not going to have much commitment to that community.

That leads to Ensign’s next point: Recruiting and training new people is enormously expensive,” he said. “In addition, the new employees are the least experienced and most stressed, inevitably delivering less than optimum performance.”

This is a special concern for communities like Aspen, and others here in the Intermountain West, not only because of the high costs affiliated with being a resort community, but also because of the geographic restrictions caused by the mountainous surroundings. This makes new residential development difficult or impossible, which further drives up the cost of the existing housing stock.

If home ownership is an impossible expense for an average worker in a given community, getting them to stick around may prove to be a challenge and can negatively affect that community’s workforce. High transportation costs only add to this burden.

My point is that if your community is in the process of developing an economic development plan, affordability is a critical consideration — albeit a complicated one. Along with affordable housing, transportation alternatives are very important. Even if people can’t live in downtown Aspen, they need to be able to get to and from their jobs there with ease, and without great expense.

That means reducing commuting costs and providing a diverse housing stock are two cornerstone components of a community’s economic development strategy. A community should think beyond recruitment, and create a place that allows young professionals the opportunity to plant roots in town and make a commitment and grow there. Businesses — and community — will benefit greatly.

Jillian Sutherland is a project manager with the Glenwood Springs-based Sonoran Institute, a non-profit organization that seeks to inspire and enable community decisions that respect the land and people of western North America.

 

Top priorities for Glenwood . . .are there others?

At the end of a recent blog post http://wp.me/p3S5Sv-3v I asked the question, “What do you think are the three top priorities that Glenwood should be addressing over the next 3 years?”   Some of the responses I received were expected and some were surprising.

 As promised, here are the results I have received thus far.  I have put them in alphabetical order, so there is no ranking involved.   Along with the larger categories are a few comments associated with the items.

Small beach on Roaring Fork River in Confluence area

 

  •  Authenticity
    •         Offer a more authentic experience for Glenwood visitors
    •         Emphasis on natural outdoor experience and healthy recreation and living
    •         Promotion of visual and performing arts
  • Communication
    •         Find ways to increase communication with citizens
    •         Innovative and multiple ways to communicate
    •         Develop methods/techniques/means for citizens to talk with elected    officials, boards and commissions
    •         Ongoing dialog needed – citizens get frustrated and give up
    •         Make information easily and readily accessible to the public
    •         Increase transparency
  • Confluence Redevelopment
    •         Make this are area that pulls the town together
    •         Make this a focal point for Glenwood
  • Economic Development
    •         Long-term, sustainable economic development needed
    •         Shared vision and strategy
    •         Public-Private Partnerships
    •         Work within the community to define direction and priorities
  • Housing
    •         Expand in-town choices
    •         More inventory needed in core areas
  • Leadership
    •         Identify and develop leaders in the community
    •         Determine how to get new, different, younger people involved
    •         Improve the working relationship between City staff, elected officials, boards and commission
    •         Expand communication, cooperation and collaboration with other governmental entities within the region
  • Long-term Fiscal Health
    •         Develop strategies for dealing with an increasing demand for infrastructure, services and long-term operations/maintenance
    •         Seek ways to increase efficiencies in providing services
    •         Increase the cooperation between community development and capital improvement planning
    •         Identify efficient patterns of growth

 Grand Ave by Sacred Grounds 4-5-13

  • Mobility/Transportation
    •         Improve connectivity of local network
    •         Improve bike/pedestrian facilities on existing streets
    •         Improve coordination between land use patterns and transit system – regionally
    •         Complete the Grand Avenue Bridge to maximize the benefit to Glenwood Springs and the entire region
    •         Make the hard decisions to improve north/south travel through Glenwood with an eye on practicality and the chance of it actually getting to completion
    •         Develop a Regional Transportation Master Plan
    •         Development of  Midland Avenue as an alternate route is waiting to happen
    •         Completion of South Bridge is critical
    •         Need an 8th Street connection to Midland Avenue
    •         A 14th Street connection to Midland Avenue is needed
    •         27th Street Bridge must be improved

 

6th Street Looking East Spring 2013

  • North Glenwood
    •         Currently blighted but new bridge alignment provides motivation for a new vision
    •         Has the location, infrastructure, businesses, entrepreneurs and property owners to partner with City
    •         Need to identify leaders to make this happen
  • Performing Arts Facility
    •         Focus energy on planning for the best possible facility in the best possible location

My intention is to make this an ongoing list and to address each item in upcoming posts.  Do you have additional items that should be added to this list?  Would you like to comment on any of the suggestions?  If so, please do!  You can comment on this blog or submit a comment via the form at the end of the blog.  Thanks to all who contributed and I hope to be able to continue the conversation with each of you.

I am pleased to have been selected by the Sonoran Institute to attend the Glenwood Springs Community Development Academy which will be commencing Monday evening, September 16th.  I hope to tell you about some of the discussions as we progress through the eight week journey to make Glenwood Springs even better than it is now.

Why we don’t get economic development . . .

Since I am feeling a bit under the weather and have not been able to finish my latest rumination, I wanted to share something I read recently on another blog.   Interesting.

http://wiseeconomy.com/why-we-dont-get-economic-development-we-dont-really-want-it/

Small Town Character vs Economic Growth . . .

Noemi Kosmowski Painting a utility box by City Hall

Noemi Kosmowski Painting a utility box by City Hall

Engaging in a short email exchange with a colleague, Mark Iodice, recently, I was challenged whether it is possible to maintain “small town character” while having “positive economic growth.” Mark is a comparatively recent transplant to Glenwood Springs, but jumping into community involvement with both feet – which is absolutely wonderful. I can see a future leader in our midst. At any rate, I have been pondering this subject for a few days and decided to make it the subject of a blog.

First of all is the ever enigmatic definition of “small town character”. As I mentioned in a prior blog post “What is Small Town Character” a dictionary definition is elusive, but examples are clearer. However, I will start by referencing what has been called a must read for planning professionals – of which I am not. In his book Rural by Design: Maintaining Small Town Character Randall Arendt lists distinguishing features of a “traditional small town” including compactness, medium density, downtown “centers”, commercial premises, civic open space, pedestrian friendly and auto accessible, streets scaled for typical use and incremental growth outward. He also described a “sense of community” where a diverse population exists and people feel an attachment to their neighborhoods. Arendt references a book titled The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg that touts the value of gathering places like coffee shops, bars, and post office that offer a “third place” – somewhere besides work or home – to socialize and meet and talk with your neighbors. This “third place” is often missing in suburbia or larger cities.

So how does Glenwood meet the criteria of a small town as described above? We have a compact form with some civic open space and a quaint downtown center. We strive to be walkable yet co-exist with vehicles – not always successfully. We have several great “third places” including The Bluebird Café and Sacred Grounds, Doc Holliday’s, The Springs, Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company and of course the Hot Springs Pool, the Community Center and Two Rivers Park where there is music in the summer. But I think the key is the “sense of community.” Judging by the recent meetings over the Grand Avenue Bridge and Access Control Plan, people definitely have an attachment to our town and their neighborhoods.

Glenwood Springs has also received numerous “Small Town” accolades. Some of the more recent ones include being named by Smithsonian.com as one of the Top 20 Small Towns to visit in 2013. From their website, this is a description of their criteria:

“What makes a small town big on culture? For the second year running, we sought a statistical answer to this question by asking the geographic information company Esri to search its databases for small towns and cities—this time, with populations of less than 15,000—that have exceptional concentrations of museums, art galleries, orchestras, theaters, historic sites and other cultural blessings.

“Happily, the top towns also boast heartwarming settings where the air is a little fresher, the grass greener, the pace gentler than in metropolitan America. Generally, they’re devoted to preserving their historic centers, encouraging talent and supporting careful economic growth. There’s usually an institution of higher learning, too.

“Most important are the people, unpretentious people with small-town values and high cultural expectations—not a bad recipe for society at large.”

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/The-20-Best-Small-Towns-to-Visit-in-2013-196855051.html

Budgettravel.com counted Glenwood as one of the 10 “America’s Coolest Small Towns 2013” http://www.budgettravel.com/contest/americas-coolest-small-towns-2013,14/#candidate-detail12125

In 2011, Rand McNally and USA Today named Glenwood Springs as the “Most Fun Small Town in America.”

I’d say Glenwood Springs fits the bill as a “small town” and a very cool and unique one at that!

Now, on to Mark’s email. I was going to pull quotes and paraphrase but though it might be best in its entirety – so here it is:
“I don’t think the goal of maintaining a small town goal correlates with positive economic growth. In order to have substantial economic growth, you need to have an increase in capital (e.g., people, buildings, money, jobs).

“In my mind, there are many types of commercial development. The best type of community development is allowing businesses to do what they want with their land and money because it yields a higher return in capital. More capital means more tax revenue, so we can then rebuild our infrastructure, like Midland Avenue, provide health services for children or invest in our schools.

“Everything is interconnected in a small economy. For example, more car dealerships necessitates more workers, more workers necessitates more housing, more housing necessitates more construction workers, more construction workers necessitates more food service businesses, and so forth.

“In short, positive growth for one business results in positive growth for everyone.

“So if you restrict or regulate one business or land development, in actuality you’re restricting and regulating the entire local economy—which in turns results in a decrease in capital.

“However, not everyone thinks this type of commercial development is positive for good reasons (e.g., social problems, environmental pollution, and a higher burden on governmental services).

“It comes down to what the community wants for the future of Glenwood Springs.”

I don’t disagree with the premise of Mark’s thinking. It is the basis for a market-driven system. However, I am not sure he has made the argument that economic growth is not possible in the environment of a small town. I so love arguing with attorneys . . . so here are my thoughts about why it is possible and perhaps even more probable that in other environs.

Something was said at a meeting I attended last week, and my apologies because I cannot remember which meeting or who said it (Jim Charlier – was it you?) . . . but it was something to the effect that the best economic development is grown from within the community. If you have an authentic place that people want to “be” to live, work and play – then it will attract and hold the kind of people with entrepreneurial leadership that will promote and encourage economic growth and diversity. Glenwood Springs looks to be one of those places where that synergy can take place.

Glenwood is sought after because of its small town nature, beautiful vistas and recreational opportunities. But what we also have is an educated and able workforce, fantastic infrastructure, superior location along highway and rail corridors, and a cooperative attitude to economic diversity and growth. It is because we are a small town we can make things happen. We get together in our “third places” or in Town Hall meetings, or work sessions and work out our differences because we have that sense of community and of ownership and place. As Smithsonian pointed out we are “devoted to preserving (our) historic centers, encouraging talent and supporting careful economic growth.”

Yes, many people would like to keep Glenwood Springs exactly the same as when they first came, or as it was when they grew up here. There is nothing wrong with them feeling that way. It is an easy comfortable feeling – like an old pair of favorite jeans, or comfy shoes. But like those jeans or shoes, sometimes things need to change or be replaced. Sometimes you simply outgrow them. Sometimes change is simply inevitable.

The question then remains, are change and growth intrinsically bad or negative? To many people the answer is yes. For many of us that are getting older, change simply is happening too fast. I heard that many times at the Town Hall meeting the other night. People asked to slow things down, or take things one at a time. Unfortunately, in the real world, that is not always possible. But, no, change is not a dreadful thing. We have a few great examples of recent positive change. We have a new, much needed parking structure in the downtown area to support tourism and our downtown merchants and businesses. We are in the process of completion of a new library – an innovative partnership between Colorado Mountain College, the City of Glenwood Springs and the Garfield County Library. We have a world class whitewater park. We have relocated our sewer system from the confluence area, opening up many opportunities for that area. Were these projects without naysayers? Absolutely not. But in the long run, they were approved and will unlock even more potential for Glenwood Springs.

We are stronger, better able to adapt and grow economically because we are a small town. We have a sense of who we are. We also know what we need and will work tirelessly to meet those needs. Whether we are a town of 9,614 as we were in the 2010 census, or a town of 15,000 or a town of 25,000, if we maintain a sense of community and place, respect the significance of our history, continue a spirit of cooperation, and retain our small-town values, we will retain our small town character, and embrace economic growth and diversity. We are the small town that CAN!