Early this spring, my neighbor undertook a major remodel of his home. As a
result, the beep of heavy equipment and the steady thud of nail guns echoed
through our home all summer long. Just as those sounds mellowed and the landscaping
crew arrived, excavators and concrete trucks showed up at a meadow on the other
side. They cut the lot, poured a foundation, heavy timbers showed up and the
beep of large yellow vehicles and ka-chunk of nail guns returned. They’re
still echoing. And meanwhile, another crew has slowly been dissembling the
historic barn across the street. They’re making way for several new homes
All the while, I spent my summer navigating orange cones and oversized loads.
On my 5-mile bike commute, I pass not one but four separate, new townhome developments.
I dodge gridlocked traffic every single day.
Right about now, you’re probably expecting a hearty endorsement of the
Responsible Growth Initiative. I hate to disappoint, but the truth is that
my heart embraces the Responsible Growth Initiative. My head is unwilling to
I’ve been following the initiative since long before the petitions hit
the streets. I’ve talked with both sides of the issue and read every “Dear
Editor” that’s argued for or against it. I’ve seen debates,
looked at initiatives in other towns and read the actual text. When it comes
down to it, the impacts on me and the thousands of others who live outside
Durango city limits have steered me against the initiative.
You see, the little urbanizing corner of the world described above is located
roughly 1 mile north of the city line. As a La Plata County resident so close
to town, I live in the hot zone. My neighborhood and numerous others like it
are where the houses, condos and box retailers will go if infill stops in Durango.
I can hear the catcalls already: “He’s a development pawn;” “The
paper’s gotten money hungry,” “They’re courting real
estate ads;” “I knew it. The Telegraph’s trying to sell out.” I’m
sure the nastiness of the recent debate on the issue will soon pay a visit
to our front door.
This in mind, I’ll say that I don’t see this as a question of
good vs. evil, poor vs. rich or small vs. big. The task at hand is managing
over-the-top growth. The Responsible Growth Initiative is just an inadequate
tool, and its fatal flaw is a failure to look at the larger picture – La
Plata County as a whole.
After nearly 30 years in Colorado, including long terms in towns like Telluride,
Crested Butte and Boulder, I’ve witnessed roughly a dozen different measures
to control growth. I’ve also watched them all fail to one degree or another
and learned that you can’t turn back the leviathan. At best, you’re
able to guide it. As drafted, the Responsible Growth Initiative would guide
growth, but only by pointing it unchecked into the incorporated county. The
results would be obvious: more traffic, more sprawl, more septic tanks, less
open space and a generally lower quality of development.
Still, I give the Responsible Growth Initiative huge credit for a major accomplishment.
We can thank the Friends of the Animas Valley for bringing the discussion to
the forefront and getting both sides to the table. The initiative’s mere
existence says loudly that many of the residents of Durango and La Plata County
are tired of living in a construction zone. The movement demands change, and
our public servants should be listening carefully.
Were I picking up a city ballot on Nov. 2, I would be tempted to vote my heart
and endorse the Responsible Growth Initiative. There in the privacy of the
booth, I might get emotional, darken the oval and try to throw a wrench in
the way of the steady creep that’s gobbled up several of my hometowns.
Luckily, I don’t have to make that decision. And sitting on the outside,
I’m more inclined to follow my head and not endorse the Responsible Growth
Initiative. Whether it passes or not, I believe the biggest step needs to be
taken Nov. 3. On that day, we need to start crafting a solution for the entire
community, not just the one inside city limits.
– Will Sands