Review by Martha Quillen
Salida – July 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine
City of Salida Comprehensive Plan
Prepared for: Salida City Council
Salida Planning & Zoning Board
Volunteers Planning Committee
Citizens of Salida, Colorado
prepared by: Leland Consulting Group
HOH Associates, Inc. & Gorsuch Kirgis
First, it should be noted that there are actually two city plans, and that Salidans should have both of them. At the first public review of the comprehensive plan, citizens protested such items as rent controls, price controls, fencing standards and nuisance ordinances. At that point, it was suggested that because most of the community’s objections were about the “action plans” included in the instrumentation section of the work, those “action plans” could be left out.
Yet even though those “action” items aren’t included in the plan now given to Salidans, the “actions” will be kept as a resource by the city council. As Mayor Nancy Sanger pointed out, those “actions” may prove necessary to implement the plan. Thus, in our opinion, it is imperative that Salidans know what the “actions” say.
The Salida Comprehensive Plan is a must read for citizens of Salida, and its three-mile “influence area,” and for citizens of Poncha Springs (since Salida’s plans include Poncha).
As a work of art, this plan leaves a lot to be desired. The sentences tend to be long-winded — as in, “An extensive open space network and trails system is envisioned within and surrounding Salida, not only to link the community and provide the necessary buffers to separate incompatible land use types, but also to maintain and enhance the City’s growing tourism industry, particularly related to the use of the Arkansas River.”
And the policies are vague; take for example, “Reduce the amount of sub-standard housing through the elimination of blight-causing influences.”
So is a “blight-causing influence” animal, vegetable or mineral? Or more to the point, does such an influence have a first and last name?
Obviously, we were offended by some of the statements in the plan, and were particularly taken aback by the preponderant implication that Salida was notably blighted, decayed, and substandard.
But more importantly, we saw this plan as a not-so-thinly-veiled development tool, rather than what it was supposed to be — and that’s a plan to serve those who already live and work in Salida.
According to the Leland Consulting Group, the Salida City Council, and Salida Mayor Nancy Sanger, this plan reflects the overall consensus of the community, and is entirely based upon community polls and the work of a citizen committee. But questionnaire responses included in the plan indicated that the majority of respondents seemed to share our concerns.
We worry about the city’s decaying infrastructure and whether Salida can afford to keep up.
— And in the questionnaire responses, concerns about infrastructure recurred throughout. Salidans also picked adequacy of existing utility services as their number one priority in reviewing and approving development.
— Yet the plan’s policy statements on infrastructure refer to sidewalks, trails, roads, and public transit, but never utilities. The plan, however did cite a need for Salida to gain new water rights as soon as possible.
Because according to the text, “The comprehensive plan, as described above, if fully implemented, would more than double the city’s current population of 5,600. Expanded water resources and sewer facilities, as well as additional transportation systems will be required to serve this level of growth in the future.”
Yep, that’s what the plan calls for, even though, in our experience, few Salidans yearn for a population exceeding 11,000. And even fewer want to pay in advance for public utilities designed to serve potential newcomers.
In this plan, however, improved water and sewage systems are only considered in terms of how many more citizens they can provide for.
Questionnaire respondees also ranked preservation of agricultural and ranching lands as a high priority. Yet it’s hard to envision how agriculture will thrive with all of the available water in the valley flowing into homes — and all of the non-public land planted with subdivisions.
Questionnaire respondees also expressed concern over whether wages in Salida can cover adequate housing.
But the plan seemed more concerned with taxing, fining, and ordinancing the poor than it did with attracting higher-paying employment.
Actually, we haven’t the foggiest notion whether this plan accurately expresses the views of the planning committee, but we’re sure it has flaws that could seriously affect many Salidans.
Other problems we saw with the plan included:
1)Salidans were promised a plan that would control developers, but this plan controls residents. Heavily weighted to increase property values, the plan authorizes rampant growth, and calls for numerous improvements to be made at the residents’ expense.
2)Though people are already moving here at a phenomenal rate, much (if not most) of Salida’s comprehensive plan is a beautification agenda, calling for improved landscaping, improved fencing, weed control, better design standards, nuisance ordinances, blight reduction, decay elimination, etc. In addition, the actions to implement this plan call for increasing ordinances, code enforcement, and regulations. If this plan is adopted, Salidans could end up with more fines, fees, rules, regulations, ordinances, code enforcement, and taxes — all for the sake of serving tourists and developers.
3)In a town where 44.9% of the families earn less than $19,999 per year, this plan is splendiferous. It envisions college campuses, extensive trail systems, numerous new schools, expansive open space, additional water rights, twenty-four hour public transit systems, and more. Yet just the water resources needed to implement this plan are too expensive for Salida’s average taxpayer. If this plan is successfully implemented, however, paying those taxes won’t be a problem for our working class — since they’ll be commuting in from northern Saguache County. Today, workers in Vail commute from Leadville, and Breckenridge workers commute from Fairplay.
4)Growth seems inevitable, but this plan actively seeks a level of growth that insures instability. In such a climate, chain restaurants and retailers threaten family-operated enterprises, and newcomers replace established residents. Pressure is put on the infrastructure, and public utilities must be expanded all at once at enormous expense.
5)Times are tough for government, and the City of Salida could obviously use the money that would come from higher property values and wealthier citizens. But all in all, we’d prefer a plan that serves Salidans better. After all, a representative government is supposed to serve the voters — not itself — and certainly not potential future citizens and developers.
6)The plan’s more bureaucratic than usable. Good ideas are jumbled together with incomprehensible statements. And easy to implement ideas, like a downtown parking lot, are mixed up with long-term ideas like doubling the population and establishing a college campus. Wordy, wandering, and full of superfluous phrases, the plan doesn’t prioritize goals or advocate any clear direction.
7)At the first public meeting to discuss this plan, Ralph Moore, a retired planner, called the plan “social engineering.” We’d agree with that.
8)Mountain Mail Publisher, Merle Baranczyk, called the plan “socialistic,” but felt it could and should be implemented regardless. Since the actions include rent controls, price controls, sales taxes, and increased property taxes, and the maps showed an overall tendency to rezone private property (which could be classified as a “takings” action), we see his point.
What we can’t see, however, is why Salida’s citizens should adopt this plan.
Mayor Sanger, on the other hand, recommends adopting the plan ASAP. At the first meeting, she told skeptics that this was an excellent plan drafted by experts.
But in Colorado today, there are no experts at preserving livable and affordable towns. In our state, even the best laid plans have gone awry. Take affordable housing as an example.
The Salida plan relies heavily on subsidies, even though it’s well-known that subsidies actually elevate prices. This was a desirable effect in the old days of Farmers’ Home Loans — since such loans could increase the overall valuation of depressed regions.
But Salida’s housing prices have already doubled, and any substantial increases in valuation could make presently affordable housing — unaffordable, or at least unaffordable for the retirees and working families who currently live here. High valuations will hit decidedly hard if taxes are increased to cover the new water and sewage treatment plants, schools, roads, and trails in the plan.
Furthermore, with crisis conditions in Telluride, Vail, Boulder, and numerous other cities, it’s clear that housing subsidies can’t alleviate housing problems. Moreover, if prices spiral here, many currently independent families may be forced to rely upon government aid — and such subsidies will put the renter, the potential homeowner, and our community at the mercy of government cutbacks.
Then there’s open space. When Boulder embraced the concept of green spacing in the late sixties, no one realized green spacing could effectively cordon off the town, thereby increasing property values — until Boulder became one of the most expensive communities in the United States, with housing prices well beyond the means of the average working citizen.
Even worse, Boulder’s high-dollar cachet attracted a huge service area, effectively spewing suburban sprawl across the countryside. Thus, beyond Boulder’s thin envelope of green space, there’s a growing urban jungle.
Unfortunately, in planning circles, the old physics law often seems to apply, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Thus, we’d recommend very careful consideration before adopting any Comprehensive Plan.
Sure, we can pay for the preparation of this plan, and it will be well worth the cost — since the plan includes citizen input and numerous measures that merit consideration. But as we see it, one person’s vision may be another’s nightmare.
At the first reading of the Salida comprehensive plan, several city council members reminded the audience that this plan is basically a vision, and any parts that we don’t like, we don’t have to implement.
But if this plan is adopted, the city council can pass any rules, regulations or ordinances it thinks are necessary to implement the plan. (Only taxes must be decided by a general vote.)
Well, we could go on and on and on, but instead we recommend reading this work for yourself. Whatever you decide, the next meeting is July 8.
And whether you love the plan or loathe it, this is an opportunity to make a difference in Salida’s future — and maybe your own.