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Town planning commission seeks more involvement in main street reconstruction project


At an April 23 meeting, several members of the Pagosa Springs Planning Commission expressed a desire to be more involved in Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT’s) U.S. 160 reconstruction project through downtown Pagosa Springs.

The commissioners, particularly, thought that the issue of parking downtown during the construction is an issue within the purview of the planning commission. 

This became an issue when CDOT revealed that downtown parking along U.S. 160 would need to be sacrificed in order to keep two traffic lanes open during the construction. 

Several town boards and committees, like the Main Street Advisory Board’s Cone Zone Care Committee, have been involved in the project, providing public information and planning for the removal of downtown parking during the project.

With the news that CDOT is delaying the project due to the one bid received coming in over budget, some on the planning commission saw an opportunity to get more involved. 

Planning commissioner Chad Hodges commented that the project could “potentially” change “the face of town, down in that area,” wondering if “there was something we can do.” 

“How do we get involved in it? Maybe it’s not our mandate? I’m not sure. I’m just wondering if we have a chance to interject,” he asked. 

Community Development Director James Dickhoff asked for a specific example of something that the planning commission could get involved in regarding the project. 

Hodges replied that since the planning commission also sits as the Historic Preservation Board, and “the facades of some of the older buildings could change during this,” he wondered if the board has any role to play in the project.

Dickhoff explained that “certainly any facade changes would have to come to the board, either the Design Review [Board] or [the] Historic Preservation [Board].”

Hodges recommended, at the very least, “a partnership meeting with one of the other committees” involved in the project, to which Dickhoff replied, “That’s not a bad idea.”

Dickhoff then explained to the planning commissioners the latest on the town’s efforts to supplement lost parking spaces downtown during the construction. 

He said the town is looking at a few “satellite or close proximity parking lots,” and town staff “could certainly bring those” to the planning commission for its recommendation.

One of the lots, Dickhoff said, will utilize “the western corner of the Town Park practice field,” adding that the town has, for some time, “contemplated parking there in some fashion.”

“We’ve got an engineer looking at design and an estimate for our consideration moving forward. We like that location because it’s downtown, it’s close and walkable,” he said.

The library board also just approved “a parking agreement for their vacant properties,” and the town just voted to purchase the Goodman property near Tractor Supply, “so that might be another satellite parking area as well,” he explained.

Planning commissioner Chris Pitcher encouraged town staff to bring some of the issues regarding the main street reconstruction project before the commission during public meetings. 

He said that “in light of some of our light agendas, at least as of recently, I would encourage staff to utilize this board for support” on the parking issue during the construction.

The planning commission has historically had “quite a bit of focus on parking,” he said.

“It would be a good opportunity to get some of these ideas on the record and in front of us and in front of the community, more importantly. So, yeah, I think it would be great if we were more involved in that process,” he said. 

Dickhoff said, “We can certainly bring forward updates … and, certainly, if you want to be a party to, for example, the consideration of the parking area in the Town Park practice field, I’d be happy to bring that forward to you for your review and comments.”

“Yeah, I think that’s totally appropriate,” Pitcher replied. “Let’s keep us engaged.” 

Planning commissioner Mark Weiler explained that he is “really uncomfortable” with the CDOT project, declaring that it will be an “absolute financial nightmare” for Pagosa, citing a similar CDOT project in Monte Vista that, he stated, caused “wreckage to the business community in one tourist season. It was vacant for years and it still is.”

Weiler anticipated that the “reduction of sales tax revenue” for the town would be “massive,” calling CDOT a “bureaucratic regime without financial consequence.”

“They really don’t take into account what the construction project does to the sales tax revenue base of the community that they destroy,” he said. 

He added, “I wish I had a solution, but I’ll tell you this, parking at the Goodman property and walking downtown doesn’t seem like a viable option. The practice field next to Town Park, that would be an option, of course.” 

He continued, “If I was to make a recommendation to the town council as the planning commission, they should consider keeping their powder dry, because they are looking at a massive dip in sales tax revenue for five years, and Monte Vista never recovered. They never got back their preconstruction sales tax revenue,” he said.

The town should prepare for a 40 percent decline in sales tax revenues, he said. 

“You better have your hands around it … this is the financial reality that the town council should have on their agenda … If you know you’re going to be hit by a tsunami, you get everyone off the low land and get them to high land,” he said.

Pitcher suggested that Weiler’s comments would be most appropriate directly to the town council, rather than for the planning commission’s consideration. 

“They’re the ones who are gonna make the decision and they’re the ones that need to hear it,” he said. 

Weiler contended that his warning about a drop in sales tax revenues would be more powerful if it is passed as a unanimous recommendation from the entire planning commission. 

Pitcher noted that he didn’t want to speak for everybody on the commission and that financial issues were not his “expertise,” recommending that Weiler approach the council about the issue as an individual.

Pitcher suggested it would be most appropriate for the commission to focus on the parking issue during the construction, suggesting to get the issue on a future agenda. 

“I think parking is a great fit for what we’re tasked with as a planning commission,” he said, adding that solving the parking issue during the construction would also aid in solving the financial situation. 

“In a roundabout way, we can get to the financial component of that by talking about the parking,” he said. 

Dickhoff noted that staff will put the issue on a future planning commission agenda.