Old ideas revamped at annual URGED meeting

Photo by Patrick Shea The annual dinner meeting of the Upper Rio Grande Economic Development group was held at the Rio Grande Club and Resort on April 8.

SOUTH FORK— The annual dinner meeting of the Upper Rio Grande Economic Development (URGED) group filled the dining room at the Rio Grande Club and Resort on Monday, April 8. Tables mixed URGED members from different towns and counties, all of them positioned for the guest speaker’s address.
President Andrea Oaks-Jaramillo introduced keynote speaker Joe De Luca, project manager for the Crabtree Group out of Salida. De Luca established links between land use codes and jobs, housing, economic development and a community’s quality of life.
Using graphic stories from Salida and Poncha Springs, De Luca described a trend toward a city planning philosophy common in the United States before the 1950s. He showed before-and-after shots of ugly-duckling Paris and a carefully planned swan of a city. But for some reason, city planning in the 1950s created monolithic suburbs in the United States without the diversity and density that make communities run efficiently.
Comparing South Fork and Poncha Springs, De Luca cited similarities between the two towns with two highways that merge in the community. The economic opportunities from tourism come and go with traffic, but sustaining a workforce to accommodate the crowds always compromises the economic equation. If workers cannot afford to live within a reasonable distance from their work, the system can’t be sustained.
In De Luca’s cascading explanation, economic development needs a workforce, and the workforce needs a place to live. Towns need to manage infrastructure for economic growth for housing and business, which is most cost-effective when they redevelop within the density of downtowns.
De Luca noted how Salida’s codes changed in the 1970s, pushing development away from the core in the same way that Boulder workers had to move beyond the greenspace surrounding the university town to live in Longmont and other cities because the city filled to capacity.
“Dense is greener,” De Luca said, citing reduced car traffic and other benefits limiting footprints in the community. “Diverse is essential too.”
By “diverse,” De Luca means the housing structures available to residents. Dense downtown regions that offer a mix of multifamily units, dorm-style facilities, duplexes, triplexes and single-family homes are more economically diverse and vibrant as well. Mixed-use residential plans combine business operations and residents in close proximity, and a new trend shows this combination for individuals and families in new “Live-Work Zones.” Live-Work Zones allow residents to run a business on their property, perhaps starting from scratch and growing over time. Rewritten codes can cultivate business development.
De Luca described how the intersecting highways chop up Poncha Springs the same way that Highway 140 and Highway 160 sever South Fork. Using a SmartCode template for form-based coding, De Luca said the Poncha Springs planners created “a foundation so it’s not too expensive to build.” They annexed a section of town and mapped out a loop around the area for industrial access. Inside the loop, buildings face each other for community interaction (and curb appeal). Like developments in other parts of Poncha Springs, the housing units vary from single units, duplexes and fourplexes to single-family homes. Featuring a memory care center, semi-independent units and separate apartments, a $33 million assisted living facility also fits in the diversity puzzle.  
Today, Salida’s housing market has become inflated, partly from the shortage of inventory and partly because 86 percent of Chaffee County is on federal land and confines development. But changes to building codes for modern times takes a step back in time to the first planned cities of Europe and elsewhere, building from within.
“The sooner you improve your codes,” De Luca explained, “the sooner your economies will grow.”
As the heavy snowstorm on March 12 proved once again, lesser meetings get cancelled while important dates are postponed. The next URGED meeting at the Windsor Hotel at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, May 14 will feature Cleave Simpson, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. Originally slated for the March 12 meeting, Simpson will reiterate resistance to water export schemes and continue discussions from the State of the Basin Symposium at Adams State University on Feb. 23.


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