Growing pains

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 and duplexes.

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 follow.

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




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