An update on the emerging crisis involving a large group of Venezuelan refugees who’ve landed in Carbondale led off the regular Tuesday board of trustees meeting. Six of the seven board members were present, with Luis Yllanes absent.
Following approval of the consent agenda, including finalizing an agreement for the Little Blue Preschool expansion, and a few comments from the public and trustees, Mayor Ben Bohmfalk and Town Manager Lauren Gister updated the board regarding what’s now believed to be more than 100 unhoused migrants who have been camped near Carbondale’s Highway 133 entrance for the past several weeks.
Since news of the Carbondale arrival (via Denver) of numerous refugees broke last month, the advocacy group Voces Unidas has been working with the town and other entities to line up temporary shelter and other assistance.
What started as a “couple dozen” migrants who began coming to Carbondale over the summer and into the fall seeking work, has now grown to between 100-110 people, Gister reported.
The group is mostly made up of young men who have recently fled the economic and political strife in Venezuela, and have been given asylum status in the U.S. Some families with young children have been part of the group at times, Gister said.
Bohmfalk summed up other trustee sentiments in speaking to the town’s willingness to lend a hand, at least for the short term. But he noted that Carbondale alone can’t bear the burden for the long term, especially given the existing housing crisis that’s already impacting the Roaring Fork Valley.
“We don’t want to become so accommodating that we become known as the place to go,” Bohmfalk said. “But we also don’t want to be so cruel that people are freezing outside at night.”
He noted that the situation could be turned into a positive, as many of the migrants are skilled workers who could help with ongoing labor shortages.
For a complete report on this evolving story, see page 4 of this issue.
Moving on to a long list of action items that were on Tuesday’s agenda, trustees gave direction on two major projects that are at a “critical juncture,” in Mayor Bohmfalk’s words.
Those include first phase development options for the Town Center project in downtown, and next steps in planning for the new municipal Aquatics Center.
Andrew Michaelson of Artspace Projects, Inc., gave an update on a recommended Town Center design that will be sent to the Colorado Housing Finance Authority in hopes of obtaining low-income tax credits for the affordable live-work housing project.
Trustees agreed to a 39-unit first phase development along the Sixth Street side of the property, wrapping east along the alley with a mixed-used building fronting the Promenade walkway. A Nov. 21 trustees work session with Artspace representatives will focus on design details.
Trustees also grappled with the reality that replacement of the municipal pool will cost far more than the $8 million in financing that town voters approved in the spring 2022 election.
Even the original master plan concept would cost upwards of $9.6 million now, and to include all of the amenities that have since been discussed, it would exceed $13 million, Andi Korber of Land + Shelter Architects reported to the board.
Trustees settled on a top-end budget of $11.6 million, which would entail an additional capital campaign and possible use of town reserves in order to make up the gap. It also will mean some give and take in the final design, project consultants advised.
As planned, the project involves separate lap and recreation pools, a hot tub and renovation of the existing building for changing rooms and to house mechanical equipment, with solar panels to power the all-electric pool heating system.
Other items of note from Tuesday’s meeting included:
• Direction from trustees to find $180,000 in the budget to fund a town microtransit service for at least six months, as a feeder to the RFTA bus system.
• Trustee support for a $20,000 contribution to the Mt. Sopris Nordic Council for its Spring Gulch cross country ski trail system capital campaign.
• Approval of some minor revisions to the town’s Short Term Rental ordinance.
• An executive session with Town Attorney Mark Hamilton to discuss pending litigation involving Michael Francisco v. Town of Carbondale, and Donna Burkett v. Roaring Fork Transportation.