Controversy, low turnout doom Roaring Fork Valley development

Glenwood Springs voters overruled the city council’s proposed land annexation for a development that would have added 56 affordable housing units to the community.
60% of voters who turned out for a recent special election cast ballots to overturn the Glenwood Springs City Council's controversial annexation of the 16-acre 480 Donegan property. (Courtesy of Don Chaney/Glenwood Springs Citizens For Sensible Development)

by | May 10, 2022 | Housing, Politics & Policy

 

Editor’s Note: This is a commentary-style piece that comes to KHOL through the Rocky Mountain Community Radio collaborative. Glenwood Springs is a resort community located between Vail and Aspen.

With the Roaring Fork Valley and greater Mountain West in a full-blown housing crisis and deepening worker shortage, anemic voter turnout and NIMBYism [Not in My Backyard] ultimately doomed R2 Partners’ proposed Donegan development in West Glenwood.

The leadup to Tuesday’s election had nearly everything: Special interest groups, a citizen-driven ballot initiative, investigations of possible campaign finance violations and sneering threats directed at the mayor. But most of all, it embodied an age-old Mountain West gatekeeping conundrum: Who gets to lay claim to being here first, and who gets to be here from now on? And it was a prime example of how a determined interest group can overturn a controversial decision by their elected representatives.

When the Glenwood Springs City Council narrowly voted four to three to annex the 16-acre Donegan parcel at their Nov. 4, 2021, meeting, thinly veiled nativist concerns were shouted out. Objections like, “We got to think about who we let in,” and, “People that aren’t educated tend to commit more crimes.” There was lots of talk about carrying capacity. One person in the audience called Mayor Pro Tempore Charlie Willman a “chicken sh*t” for voting for the annexation. Another said he’d be waiting for Mayor Jonathan Godes outside.

The developers made repeated concessions, ultimately designating 56 rental units for affordable housing, and four deed-restricted townhomes for purchase. The developers also said they would donate $100,000 to the city for a West Glenwood emergency evacuation plan, turn an acre of the site into open space and a public park, and donate an acre to the city for a new West Glenwood fire station. R2 also estimated $308,000 in impact fees from the development would go to help defray construction costs for that fire station.

Ultimately, none of it was enough to sway voters. With 5,874 registered voters in Glenwood Springs, the unofficial tally shows only 2,383 ballots were cast — 40.6% turnout. That’s in a city of nearly 10,000 people, three-quarters of whom are presumably adults of voting age. And remember, in Colorado, all registered voters receive ballots in the mail, so voting is remarkably easy.

It’s getting increasingly difficult for working people to afford housing in the valley, and without stringent government rent controls—which are obviously unlikely—one of the only available tools to bring down housing costs is to increase supply. For now, that will have to wait in Glenwood Springs. And for the West Glenwood residents who were determined to keep new neighbors out, they’ll get to keep the supposed rural character of their slice of paradise but with a side of industry. The Diemoz Family, who have owned the Donegan parcel since the 1960s, said in a statement through R2 Partners Tuesday night that they’ll follow through on their vow to move forward on their long-held Garfield County approvals for a multi-phase industrial park.

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About Morgan Neely

Morgan is KDNK's full-time reporter and news host. He comes to KDNK with public radio passion and experience. He was a news host, reporter, and opps guy at APR and also worked with Pitkin County for a couple of years. He says that getting back to public radio and reporting is where he wants to be.

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