EDITORIAL: Small is Beautiful, Part Four

Read Part One

A couple of days ago, a local realtor and I were discussing affordable housing — the lack thereof — and he mentioned that the Pagosa Springs construction industry is looking forward to a busy 2017, with plenty of new homes ready to break ground this year.

Pagosa had a very active construction industry during the decade between 1995 and 2005. Things started to taper off slightly during 2006 and 2007, and then began a long, downward spiral for the industry. The Town of Pagosa Springs building department approved an average of only 2 new homes per year, between 2009 and 2012.

I’ve not researched the building permits scheduled for 2017; I’m merely reporting anecdotal information. My assumption is that the numerous new homes waiting to break ground will belong mainly to retirees, and at least half of the new homes will be second homes.

Working class families who can afford to build a brand new house in Pagosa Springs? Not many of those around.

Which is not to suggest that the new homes and second homes that will be built this year in our little community will be monstrously oversized. Some will presumably be modest little homes. One or two bedrooms, maybe 1 ½ bathrooms. A one-car garage,.. or maybe no garage at all. The Baby Boomers who are currently sliding into retirement all across the country have begun to develop a taste for smaller homes. Easier to heat and maintain, lower property taxes, easier to sell when the time comes to move farther south.

There are many good reasons, in 2017, to choose a smaller house… especially if you are concerned about AGW (anthropogenic global warming.) The smaller the footprint of your home, the smaller your carbon footprint. Generally speaking. There is even some evidence that human families ‘get along better’ when they live in smaller homes, where human contact and human communication is more likely to take place on a regular basis.

And smaller homes cost less to build. You will save thousands of dollar in mortgage payments.

If you are an elected official serving on one of our local government boards, however, you might have a different feeling about extravagantly large buildings. You might feel that Big is Beautiful… when you are spending the public’s money.

That sense — that Big is Beautiful — was evident at last Friday’s Archuleta Board of County Commissioners work session, just as it has been evident for the past two years during discussions about a new ‘justice center.’

Robert Levine, representing the Fairway Land Trust, had flown in from Miami to make a rather generous offer, on behalf of his family. He noted that the 4.9 acre parcel on Hot Springs Boulevard is too small, and in the wrong place, for the County’s proposed ‘justice center.’ He brought forward the idea that the Levine family might be willing to provide a considerably larger parcel on Highway 84, south of the County Fairgrounds — perhaps as part of a land swap — and that the Levine family might be willing to participate in the cost of developing utilities at the new site.

If the BOCC were interested.

(If the BOCC is not interested, then we might be looking forward to several years of litigation, due to the deed restrictions that were placed on the Hot Springs Boulevard property by the same Levine family.)

February 10, 2017, meeting between the Fairway Land Trust and the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners.

Commissioner Steve Wadley noted the problems with the new site, including the lack of utilities to the site, the likelihood that the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) would require new turn lanes, and the fact that the property is not currently within the Town boundaries. (State law requires the County Courthouse to be located within the town limits of the county seat.)

We’ve been hearing from the County architectural consultants that the Hot Springs Boulevard site is too small, and that the lack of space and sloping terrain will cause the ‘justice center’ to be more expensive than if it were sited at a better location. The Levine property seems, at first glance, like it might be a better location. And also, a less contentious location.

What was not discussed at the Friday work session — and what has never been talked about, during the two years of BOCC ‘justice center’ discussions — is the idea that Small is Beautiful.

The proposed ‘justice center’ — as currently sketched out — would include only two of the County’s twenty (20) departments: the Courts and the Sheriff’s Office (which includes the County jail.) Some of those 20 departments operate out of various buildings scattered around the community, but five of them are housed in the Old County Courthouse.. including the Courts and the Sheriff.

Yes, it’s an old building. And it weighs in at about 25,100 square feet.

When the County did its original “Space Needs Assessment” in 2015, the Courts were operating in about 6,000 square feet, and the Sheriff was using about 13,000 square feet, including the detention center. That adds up to 19,000 square feet. The 2015 Needs Assessment projected future needs, for the two departments in question (Sheriff and Courts) of about 29,000 square feet.

Somehow, during the next 12 months, the ‘justice center” grew (on paper) to 50,000 square feet. This is understandable. The people who make obscene profits during the construction of public buildings — the banks, the architects and the construction companies — make a lot more obscene profit if the building is 50,000 square feet, compared to only 29,000 square feet.

No matter were the BOCC decides to locate a 50,000 square foot ‘justice center’… it’s still too big.

And the taxpayers have every right to vote, “No, thank you.”

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.