This "conceptual plan from Carbondale's Aquatics Facility Master Plan details a revamped design maintaining the town pool's current location north of Sopris Park. Courtesy graphic

The latest Board of Town Trustees meeting saw all trustees in attendance, plus much of Town staff. It was a momentous meeting that included approval of a contract to hire Lauren Gister as the Town’s next manager. Gister was selected through a process led by national recruiting firm Columbia ltd. She is currently the first selectwoman/mayor of the town of Chester, Connecticut.

Mayor Dan Richardson clarified that, as first selectwoman/mayor, Gister serves as a combination of mayor/manager for Chester, a town not unlike Carbondale. Gister also speaks Spanish fluently and is a 25-year Marine veteran and practicing attorney. Said Richardson, “With great enthusiasm, I will support this contract and this hire.”

The two-year contract has Gister beginning Jan. 17, 2022 at $180,000 per year. Gister will also have the opportunity to rent housing from the Town at $1,600 per month, plus help with moving expenses.

Additionally, trustees saw the conclusion of a lengthy process to split 520 Mesa Verde into two lots, roughly 7,400 square feet each. The owners of that property worked with Forum Phi, seeking to build a second family home on the property to be rented. With steady opposition by neighbors, the plan was initially recommended denial by Town staff and became the subject of much debate among planning and zoning commissioners over the course of four meetings. According to Ryan Lee, project architect with Forum Phi, the idea is consistent with the Town’s comprehensive plan in that it supports diverse housing options. Lee also showed that neighboring properties are already more dense than this split lot would be with a second home.

“Two years ago, Danyielle and I were hanging out behind the garage,” said Damon Roth. Property owners Roth and Danyielle Bryon had recently seen friends leave Town because of the lack of affordable living spaces. They thought, “We could really do something,” as 15-year residents “not really planning on going anywhere anytime soon.” 

Neighbor Ron Baar called it “subdivisions within subdivisions” and said the application “should have been denied immediately.” He warned trustees that if property values continue to climb, similar lot splits may be sought throughout Town. “If this is the future you want for the community, then so be it.”

Trustee Heather Henry stated “huge” concerns. “I’m nervous about having the public meeting tonight [days before the Thanksgiving holiday].” While recognizing the virtue of the land owners’ intent, she too worried about the precedent. “I’m personally not prepared to vote tonight,” she said. “If pushed to, the applicant wouldn’t like my answer.”

Mayor Dan Richardson asked if a continuance would truly yield new information. Trustee Ben Bohmfalk highlighted that the lot is big enough that it can be split without changing zoning, the applicant wouldn’t need a variance to move forward after the lot split. “We’re crying out for more housing,” said Bohmfalk. “I think that it’s a really good solution.” 

Trustee Marty Silverstein echoed Henry’s concern for setting a precedent. “I know the owners, I honor their intent, but that isn’t to say it creates a precedent that’s beneficial to Town in the long run.”

Trustee Erica Sparhawk remarked that Eighth Street wasn’t even paved at the time this neighborhood was mapped out. The Town’s population at the time “was tiny.” She emphasized “I would be supportive of this happening in my neighborhood.”

Trustee Lani Kitching said she trusted to “rely on the character of Carbondale’s community to value their properties,” and doesn’t “expect a ground-swell of folks wanting to do something similar.”

The lot split passed with four votes in favor and Henry, Silverstein and Yllanes dissenting.

The meeting also featured an update from Planning Director Janet Buck about the comprehensive plan update and lessons learned throughout the process. Mayor Richardson requested that the names of the people who participated in the focus group meetings be documented, “because it’s a public process.”

Finally, the trustees met with contracted municipal financial advisor Hilltop Securities regarding options for financing a new aquatic facility which is estimated to cost upwards of $8 million. To secure the necessary financing, voters may be asked to approve a bond during the April election. There was general consensus among trustees that to pursue a property tax increase would be a mistake. Parks and Recreation Director Eric Brendlinger stated his support for financing the project with the existing recreation sales and tax bond. “It feels like if we could find the money and not have to do a tax, we would want to entertain it,” he said.

Bohmfalk suggested designating the first $100,000 of the nicotine tax toward the new pool, to generally support physical wellness (an allowed use for those funds). With guidance from the trustees, Hilltop Securities will continue to explore options. The topic of pool amenities will be discussed at the next regular meeting on Dec. 14, along with the 2022 budget. The following work session on Dec. 21 will explore short-term rentals solutions and the final meeting of the year, on Dec. 28, will be brief and via Zoom to pay bills.