EDITORIAL: Negative Impacts, Part One

Yes, ’tis the season to look forward to a brighter, more loving future, but for some reason I feel compelled to write, in this new editorial series, about Impact Fees.

Among other government impacts… such as taxes, and debt.

As we head into 2017, we have a few especially crucial issues facing our little mountain town.

I use the word, “little,” as a person who grew into adulthood in Oakland, California — one of the larger cities within a contiguous urban metropolis that spreads across Alameda and Contra Costa counties east of the SanFrancisco Bay… from the tacky suburban neighborhoods of Hayward in the south, to the rusted shipyards of Vallejo in the north. I’m not sure what the total population of that metropolis might have been when I left in 1971; today, it numbers about 2.5 million people, navigating who-knows-how-many six-lane freeways.

Coming from that background, I can’t help but view Pagosa Springs as a small town, with small town problems.

Once you live here long enough to call yourself a permanent resident, however, some of those small town problems can seem pretty big. I even find myself describing them in the Daily Post as “crises” — despite the fact that, compared to the situations faced in many parts of the world, our Pagosa Springs “crises” are nothing more than minor inconveniencies.

Take the roads, for example. I am careful, most every day, to avoid the three large potholes at the intersection where Loma Street meets North 5th Street. I will readily admit, meanwhile, that Loma Street is in noticeably better shape than, say, Dayspring Place, out in the Lake Pagosa area — but we probably ought to recognize that even a one-block-long street like Loma Street might cost the taxpayers $250,000 to rebuild, if the Town government allows it to continue falling apart (… as Archuleta County has done with Dayspring Place, for example.) My conservative estimate is based upon the recent bids received for the reconstruction of four blocks of South 8th Street: $2.5 million.

The Town government actually has plenty of money sitting in a savings account — if they really wanted to repair Loma Street, plus a couple of other smaller downtown streets — but the money was not placed into the 2017 capital improvement budget; instead, it was left unallocated. We town residents have no idea what this $2 million in unallocated reserves might be spent on, someday. Some of us are willing to bet it won’t be used for fixing our deteriorating small town roads.

Perhaps… it will be spent on a brand new bridge and roadway at South 5th Street, to service 27 acres of vacant land?

A crane sat on the shore of the San Juan River last fall, waiting to replace the steel pedestrian bridge that connects Centennial Park to the Springs Resort. Four additional bridges cross the San Juan within a half-mile radius of this pedestrian bridge.

About 80 or so local residents attended a public presentation at the Ross Aragon Community Center, back in early December, to listen to two Denver consultants explain the purported benefits of building a new vehicle bridge over the San Juan River, at South 5th Street. (We already have two vehicle bridges — and three pedestrian bridges — within half a mile of this proposed bridge, but neither of the other two vehicle bridges leads directly onto the vacant 27 acres.)

At that December 5 presentation, the public was allowed to ask questions of the consultants, although we did not always receive coherent or satisfying answers to those questions.

We also heard Mayor Don Volger state:

“Now, one thing we want you to know is, over the next 90 days, the consultants are going to be reviewing and researching — and providing answers — to other questions that may arise tonight, that can’t be answered tonight. They’ll try to research that, and get back with us — all of us — to tell us what those answers were to those questions.

“So this isn’t the last meeting we’re going to have, before we start our decision-making process about the bridge and about the development — whatever the development is going to do, and that kind of thing. So, [the consultants] will be providing additional data…”

But curiously enough, reporter Jim Garrett published the following information in the December 22 issue of the SUN — information that, in its face, appears to contradict the “next 90 days” promise made by the Mayor, as well as his promise of additional meetings…

By Jim Garrett, Staff Writer:

The Pagosa Springs Town Council may decide at its first regular meeting of 2017 whether or not to implement its right to build a bridge over the San Juan River at 5th Street under the terms of the 2012 vested rights agreement with Springs Partners LLC.

Town Manager Greg Schulte told The SUN on Tuesday, Dec. 20, that the decision is a tentative agenda item for the meeting, scheduled for Jan. 3, 2017.

The 2012 agreement provides the Springs Partners the vested right for 10 years to develop its 27-acre tract, located south of the river and west of Hot Springs Boulevard, under two alternative “sketch plans.”

Sketch Plan A includes a new bridge at South 5th Street. The bridge would enhance access to the development site, and would also provide an alternative connection for north/ south traffic between Hot Springs Boulevard and U.S. Highway 160.

As Mr. Garrett notes in his article, the 2012 Vested Rights agreement proposed that a future “Sketch Plan A” bridge and connecting road would be funded totally by the taxpayers, while the Springs Partners would contribute only an easement of land across the river from South 5th Street.

The 2012 agreement contains no commitment by the Springs Partners to start any actual development within the 27 acres. During a November 8 meeting, Mayor Don Volger had described those agreement terms as “unfair” to the town and its taxpayers. Other commentators have noted that such an agreement is also unfair to other developers in the community who, at the Town’s insistence, have been required to spend millions of dollars creating improved access to their developments.

Mayor Volger has acknowledged that the Town lacked “foresight” in entering into the agreement in 2012, admitting “that’s on me.”

Now we have another curious situation. The Mayor, on December 5, promised a careful, 90-day investigative process, to answer the questions raised by complicated traffic and economic impact studies funded jointly by the Springs Partners and the Town government.

Town Manager Greg Schulte, meanwhile, has — according to SUN reporter Jim Garrett — proposed the possibility of a final decision on the South 5th Street Bridge on January 3, less than 30 days after the full public release of the traffic and economic data.

Do we have the right to feel confused?

Read Part Two…

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Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.