By James Steindler
The tension built around a proposed development, known as 480 Donegan Project in West Glenwood, reached beyond the respective neighborhood and into the Glenwood Springs City Council chambers during the City’s discussion on Oct. 21.
At one point, the council opted to take a recess after Councilman Tony Hershey chastised Mayor Jonathan Godes, saying, “You’re like a child,” in response to the mayor using his gavel to calm the panel after Hershey’s motion to deny the annexation was voted down.
In order for the developer, R2 Partners, to go through with the project, they proposed annexing the vacant field — north of the old mall — into the City. The plot was previously part of unincorporated Garfield County.
The respective 15.8-acre parcel has been used to graze livestock, mainly a few horses, for several years in the middle of a mixed residential and commercially zoned portion of West Glenwood.
R2 Partners has gone back and forth with the City’s Planning and Zoning Commission since March 2021. On May 25, “The commission voted unanimously 4-0 to recommend denial of the annexation finding it is not consistent with the Glenwood Springs comprehensive plan’s goals of livability, small town character and safety; and that it has the potential to create adverse impacts to the health, safety and welfare of the City and adjacent neighborhoods,” reads a staff report.
Concerning community safety, the commission found that with increased traffic in emergency situations, such as a wildfire, congestion could affect an evacuation. One concession R2 Partners made was to dedicate one acre for a new fire station in the area. According to Godes, the developer is also contributing $100,000 toward a community evacuation plan.
After considering the developer’s changes, the council was split, 4-3, with the majority favoring annexation and rezoning.
Godes voted to approve annexation and told The Sopris Sun that R2 Partners is complying with the City’s comprehensive plan. “The developer closely followed our city code and comprehensive plan by providing high-density infill housing — as opposed to low-density suburban sprawl — that will create 60 affordable housing units and an additional 240 free-market units,” the mayor stated.
Other council members who voted to approve, echoed the mayor’s assertion that increased housing, especially affordable housing, is needed. Initially, the proposal included about 400 units, but that number was dropped to 272 ahead of the Oct. 21 meeting. However, during the meeting, the council members favoring the development agreed to tack on a few more, bringing the final number of units up to 300. The additional units will only be available for rent, not for sale.
Councilwoman Paula Stepp voted not to approve, but added that “we act as a council after the vote and not individuals.” However, Stepp did share that she still has some concerns going forward which she intends to see addressed.
Regarding public safety, Stepp had two points to make. First, she pointed out that with increased housing more resources would be needed. For instance, “With the added population, we will need to add to our police force,” she stated, and added, “we are currently already having difficulty filling positions.”
Despite R2 Partners vowing to supplement the emergency planning budget, Stepp still isn’t convinced. “I am concerned about the gridlock we have with the current population in West Glenwood when we face an emergency,” she said. “We have a history of wildfires threatening that side of town. As with South Glenwood, we should first be concerned about public safety.” Stepp acknowledged that the City’s push to limit the number of units in the proposed development will alleviate those concerns, but not entirely.
“This is a property that is adjacent to a blighted, nearly empty mall property,” Godes told The Sopris Sun. In light of R2 Partners announcing the planned purchase of the old mall, Godes added, “The developer of this parcel also will be leveling the mall to build new retail, restaurants and grocery stores that will revitalize West Glenwood by creating a Willits-type, mixed-use development.”