Meet the candidates
Durango City Council race off and running


With ballots for the Durango City Council election hitting mailboxes, the Durango Telegraph will be featuring three weeks of Q&A, profiles and dialogue from the eight candidates. Those in the running include: incumbents Sidny Zink and Tom Howley as well as contenders Michael Rendon, Leigh Meigs, Peter Tregillus, Jerry Swingle, Scott Graham and Linda Geer. Three seats on the five-member council are up for grabs, with the two top vote-getters earning four-year terms and the third place finisher winning a two-year term. New councilors will be sworn in April 17. Ballots are scheduled to arrive this week and are due by election day, April 3.

The Telegraph candidates forum kicks off this week with hopefuls’ answers to the following question: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Durango, and what solutions do you propose? (Answers are listed in the order they were received.)

Name: Tom Howley, 81

Occupation: Retired navy pilot; Durango City Council

Most of the challenges facing Durango are growth related. The council should manage the growth that will naturally occur, having it pay its own way. Some of the problems will be traffic, parking, water/sewer maintenance, street repair and demands on other city services. We should work on new jobs with livable wages and assist the Regional Housing Authority in creating affordable, working class housing. We should continue to provide open space and recreation facilities at the same time protecting our environment. Last but not least, we should do all that is possible to maintain our traditional way of life, support our business community and above all encourage all our citizens to work together for the common good.

Name: Scott Graham, 46

Occupation: Author, stay at home dad, chairman of Durango Open Space Advisory Board

As local polls show, the biggest challenge facing Durango today is our need to cope with the growth pressures our community faces while preserving the terrific quality of life we enjoy here. Durango has just taken a giant step toward handling the challenge of growth by approving the newly reviewed Comprehensive Plan, which will guide our city’s growth over the next 25 years. I spent two years on the Comprehensive Plan Review Committee. I’m proud to report that the focus of the plan is to make sure Durango remains a great place to live and work as our city grows. As your city councilor, I will work to fully implement the plan. To make absolutely sure Durango grows wisely, two parts of the Comprehensive Plan should be placed into law.

First, the city’s now-stalled Ridgeline Ordinance should be enacted. That ordinance, common in other mountain communities, will ensure our scenic views are maintained – along with our quality of life and economic vitality. Second, the section of the plan that calls for new development only where public facilities such as water, sewer and roads are in place should be set into law as well. An Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance will provide assurance to developers and citizens alike by ensuring that Durango expands where growth can be absorbed adequately.

In conclusion, the basic idea I will adhere to as your city councilor is this: It’s not whether we grow – it’s where and how that’s important.

Name: Jerry Swingle, 59

Occupation: Electrical inspector; president South Durango Neighborhood Association

Clearly the most pressing issue facing Durango continues to be managing our community’s growth intelligently. Many of our numerous challenges are directly related to growth: lack of affordable housing, increasing traffic and parking congestion, development pressures on open space and ridgelines, and increasing demands on public infrastructure and natural resources.

We must re-evaluate the implications for our quality of life from recent projections of an additional 18,000 residents in Durango by 2030 – for a “build-out total of 45,000 to 49,000.” Intelligent planning for our community’s future demands a proactive focus on protecting and sustaining the attractiveness of this place, our economy and the community we all share and appreciate. Through the diligent efforts and collective wisdom of hundreds of fellow citizens and local organizations we have a roadmap for a vibrant and sustainable future – the Durango Comprehensive Plan.

As a prospective city councilor, I am committed to the following:

• Enacting an Affordable Housing Policy, ensuring that Durango works closely with both the La Plata Regional Housing Authority and local nonprofits to ensure much-needed housing for our hard-working families.

• Enacting protection for irreplaceable ridgelines and fully funding our community’s commitment to open space.

• Enacting an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance that directs growth to areas where infrastructure already exists.

• Addressing the need to diversify our local economy, providing living wage jobs in businesses appropriate for our community.

• Enacting city policies that respect, honor and – most importantly – implement the product of that community vision and planning process.

Name: Peter Tregillus, 56

Occupation: Program director for Southern Ute Community Action Partnership; Durango Planning Commission

The biggest challenge facing Durango was described by appraiser Bob Allen at the Wells group 2007 Annual Real Estate Forecast: strong external factors are pushing land/housing prices ever higher. They include retiring boomers with wealth, intergenerational wealth transfers, and the second home market (nearly 40 percent of sales nationally).

We all know what this means: housing costs that push working people out of town; difficulty in hiring for critical local functions (medical, education, police, fire); congested roads as these people commute during the day; and pressure to develop on ridgelines and in open space.

To manage growth, let’s set boundaries, establish conditions and require mitigation of side effects. Let’s guide growth to denser projects, pedestrian-, bike and transit-friendly.

Immediately, we need to pass code that prohibits ridgeline development and prohibits or restricts building on slopes over 30 degrees.

Next, we need to require affordable units as a condition of annexation. I propose 10 percent to 30 percent, but we can haggle. How? The devil is in the details, but I did this work for six years. Two-hundred-and-fifty words is not enough, so please go to for more. We can do this legally now, but the incumbents have turned away from this (see Rocket Drive-In). If we can legally require this of projects inside the city (establishing “rational nexus”) I would do that, too. Examples? Burlington, Ver.; Madison, Wis.; Sacramento, Calif.; Boulder; and Santa Fe – about 200 total so far.

Finally, we need to work closely with the county to ensure city policies avoid “leapfrog” development and sprawl.

Name: Leigh Meigs, 47

Occupation: Attorney, former La Plata County Court judge

This town is ready to move beyond mere good intentions. Our quality of life is our No. 1 economic asset. Plus, it’s why we love it here. We risk ruining our quality of life through unmanaged growth. As an attorney and former magistrate, I come with backbone and legal know-how to find real solutions.

First, the most significant negative impact of development in our region is more cars. Traffic affects everyone. My emphasis on strategizing now for future transit centers and clean, efficient mass transportation, in addition to walkable and bikable paths, will prevent gridlock before it happens. Second, one current “solution” for affordable housing is to let people “drive their way” to lower-cost homes in Bayfield and other distant communities. This does not solve the traffic problem and drives up the family transportation budget. Third, if we do not integrate sustainable systems, energy efficiency and renewable resources into construction, we have missed the primary sustainability opportunity of the day – plus it costs more to live wastefully.

Each challenge is practically unsolvable in isolation. A sustainable vision takes into account the intimate relationship between location of new development, availability and cost of transportation solutions, and the offer of energy efficient construction. Therefore, I propose a Triumvirate Solution, a three-part wholistic vision that reduces traffic and energy impacts while increasing affordability, be integrated into every new development.

Name: Linda Geer, 58

Occupation: Graphic designer; Durango Planning Commission

Probably our biggest challenge is maintaining our quality of life while continuing to have growth enough to support it. As a member of the steering committee of the Grassroots Vision Project, I am delighted that our core values were incorporated almost verbatim into the city’s new Comprehensive Plan: healthy community, environmental stewardship, sustainable systems and economic vitality.

We absolutely must honor the fact that these are interdependent — the effects on one are felt by the others. In order to achieve this vision, we must invoke creative solutions and a strong resolve to implement:

• Better conservation of our physical resources

• Thoughtful planning of all new growth, development and construction

• Appropriate economic development in order to provide a secure economy, jobs and livable wages

• Affordable and attainable housing; and accessible health care.

Our new Comprehensive Plan addresses each of these issues, and implementing the plan will be my highest priority. In fact, I propose hiring a full-time person in the planning department to be the champion of this effort. Further, several of our key staff members will be retiring in the near future. We need to make sure that we hire persons who are equally committed to our goals to fill those positions.

Name: Michael Rendon, 34

Occupation: Bookseller, Maria’s bookshop; former director of FLC Environmental Center

The biggest challenge facing the city of Durango is growth and where and how it is implemented. For downtown Durango, we should encourage residential infill, which will keep people in the downtown area, slow down sprawl and provide for housing needs. By keeping people downtown, we help stimulate the local economy and ensure its vibrancy.

Another appropriate area for growth is Ewing Mesa. Ewing Mesa is adjacent to the city and could be a walkable community with clustered housing and affordable options. When Ewing Mesa is developed, it is important that the ecological integrity of Horse Gulch is kept intact. The other important aspect of growth is how we build. Incorporating energy efficiency measures into new buildings is an excellent way to lower utility bills and reduce the carbon footprint of new homes. Colorado receives sunlight roughly 300 days out of the year and it is criminal not to take advantage of passive solar design when designing new buildings. LEED certification for new development is a great tool builders can use to help build more responsibly. Growth is coming, but the key is to grow responsibly. A common sense approach to responsible growth means that all new developments have affordable housing options, implement green building standards and are sensitive to wildlife habitat and ecosystems. Absolutely no development should take place on ridge lines.

Name: Sidny Zink, 55

Occupation: Certified Public Accountant with Fredrick ZinkElliott; Durango City Council

The biggest challenge facing Durango is dealing with the fallout from being a spectacular place to live and play. We have created such a terrific community that everybody wants to join us. More than a few act on that desire, and so we see new faces and new families.

Along with new faces, we see the maturing faces of our sons and daughters who would like to keep Durango as their home. Making a place for themselves here is no easy task. So how can the City Council make a difference? By always keeping in mind that the actions we take, the ordinances we pass, the policies we adopt, must be driven by our desire to keep Durango a place where all kinds of people can live.

Our opportunities for making a meaningful dent in the shortage of reasonably priced housing are clearly limited. Three Springs will be the next place we see some impact. The city worked hard to make sure that this new part of our community would represent the cross section of people who make a town a real town. Ewing Mesa has been identified repeatedly as an exceptional location for easing the strains of growth on the city. I think its time for the city to step up and see about making it happen. There are proven methods that we can employ to get the ball rolling. There is an opportunity there for hundreds of home sites that would be protected from high-end development. We could make a difference. •



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