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Glenwood Springs special election could change the residential development landscape in the city

Ballots are due on April 23, 2024 by 7 p.m. The dropbox is outside of the Garfield County Administration Building.
Caroline Llanes
Aspen Public Radio
Ballots are due on April 23, 2024 by 7 p.m. The dropbox is outside of the Garfield County Administration Building.

Glenwood Springs voters are being asked whether the city should change the review process for residential developments in city limits—and on land the city may annex.

If ballot Question A, or the “Growth Accountability Measure” is approved, Glenwood Springs’ city charter would change, requiring a vote of the public if the city wanted to annex or sell land, or if it wanted to build housing on land it owned.

It would also require housing developments of more than four units to go before the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, and City Council—including those built on private land.

Glenwood Springs resident and retiree Jon Banks is one of the petition circulators behind the measure, which they call “Keep Glenwood, Glenwood.”

“If you think growth and development is so important that it should be rushed through with as little public input and scrutiny as possible, then don’t vote for Question A,” he said in an interview with Aspen Public Radio. “But if you think growth and development is having an impact on Glenwood Springs, and you think we should have public input and scrutiny on it, then vote for Question A.”

He said the process of gathering signatures from residents to get the question on the ballot revealed a lot of concerns residents had about growth and development in the community.

“People said, ‘holy cow, the traffic.’ People said, ‘city council doesn’t listen.’ People said, ‘council has their own agenda,’” he explained. “By requiring a public vote on many of these things, and a full public process on larger residential developments, we will definitely get the city’s goals and the people’s goals aligned.”

He said the measure could also increase accountability for developers, by forcing them to present their project to the public for approval.

“Surely the people who are proposing these projects can come up with a project that half the people in Glenwood would vote for,” he said. “If not, it's a bad project. Affordable, not affordable, whatever type of proposal it is that the city might want to annex land, sell land, or develop land for: if half the people don't like it, it's probably not a good proposal. I mean, 50% approval is not a big ask.”

According to the city of Glenwood Springs, from the year 2015 to present, 592 multifamily units have been built. 360 multifamily units are under construction, and 97 multifamily units have been approved but construction hasn’t started yet.

But opponents say if approved, the rule change could diminish the quality of life in Glenwood Springs by slowing down much-needed housing for the city’s workforce.

Gail Schwartz is the president of Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley, which is building six affordable for sale units in Glenwood at the corner of 8th and Midland.

In an interview with Aspen Public Radio, she said she shares the concerns about Question A hampering new housing and reducing the city’s vibrancy.

“What keeps Glenwood, Glenwood, is the fact that you have viable healthcare, you have an excellent education system, you have a robust economy along Grand Avenue and the downtown businesses,” she said. “But all of that relies on having employees.”

According to the city, about 78% of workers in Glenwood Springs live elsewhere and commute in. Schwartz said people should be able to live where they work, and the city should be able to quickly build housing to support that.

“This is degrading quality of life and the ability for our critical institutions to provide the basic services to that community,” she said. “So affordable housing, workforce housing is so critical.”

City officials estimate that it has a housing shortfall of more than 1300 units. That’s if they want to reduce the amount of cost-burdened households, fill unfilled jobs in Glenwood, and reduce the number of workers commuting into the city.

Another concern Schwartz shared was the city of Glenwood Springs’ ability to get state money through the state’s Affordable Housing Financing Fund.

Created by Proposition 123, municipalities can opt into receiving money from the state for affordable housing. Those municipalities must commit to increasing their affordable housing stock by 3% each year, starting in 2026, and must fast-track the review process for affordable housing developments.

Glenwood Springs has opted into the program.

“We'll now have to go through P&Z and City Council and have those public hearings, which will probably add an additional 3 to 4 months to that application process,” Schwartz said, estimating timeline impacts for both Habitat and other developers looking to build affordable housing.

“So can we, at the same time, impose these heavier restrictions on the review process and have access and be able to comply with that expedited review process required by 123?” she said. “Are we giving up the resources that could be available to the community to help us build affordable homes?”

Hannah Klausman, the city’s Community Development Director, told Aspen Public Radio in an email that the city would keep its commitment, regardless of the election outcome.

“The City will continue to commit to increasing affordable housing by 3% annually and review opportunities for expedited review under either the current processes, or processes implemented as part of Question A,” she wrote.

She also noted that housing development proposals themselves would not be altered by Question A, only the process they’re reviewed under, and that other developers could be eligible for the 123 funding.

“By completing the Proposition 123 Local Government Affordable Housing Commitment, the City of Glenwood Springs opened the door for eligible entities to receive the funding, (including non-profits, community land trusts, private entities and local governments), for projects within Glenwood Springs,” she wrote.

Voters must turn in their ballots by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23rd.

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering everything from local governments to public lands. Her work has been featured on NPR. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.