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On Tuesday, March 28 the City of Salida and their consulting team hosted a pair of Community Design Charettes, advancing the master plan for the South Ark Neighborhood.  The design workshops are the second step in a weeklong set of events, that will conclude in a public presentation of preliminary design concepts on Thursday, March 30. All this week, Ark Valley Voice has covered these events as they unfold.

To start the session, Studio Seed’s principal consultant Cheney Bostic provided a recap of what the team has been doing to engage the community since a community town hall  was held at the end of January, 2023. She and her teammates cited feedback from that session plus an online community survey. Results from both were compared and contrasted, reflecting the demographics of the participants in each effort. The complete data set was presented to the Salida City Council on March 6, in a summary available here.

Key Themes from surveys the design process should address

An important takeaway from the previous surveys was a series of key themes that the South Ark Neighborhood project hopes to address. They include (not in any order of priority)

  • Maintain significant outdoor space
  • Provide housing for local workforce/seniors
  • Provide athletic fields at South Ark
  • Find key development partner(s) like Colorado Mountain College (CMC)
  • Eco-conscious design elements
  • Minimize taxpayer burden

All are lofty goals; as always, the devil is in the details. The challenge, how to prioritize the above to do the most good for the people who need it the most, avoiding overlap with other projects, programs, and private enterprise, working within the constraints of time, space, and funding.

Time to get hands on – the bird’s eye view of South Ark Neighborhood 

“Bubble Diagram #4” as a talking point to start discussions. Note: no specific housing or recreational details are yet shown on this blank canvas. Image courtesy City of Salida

With attendees all having this common starting point, Bostic then outlined the process for the workshop. Working in groups of five or more, a mix of stakeholders from the public, housing agencies, recreation advocates, and facilitators started by considering a series of “bubble diagrams” provided by the consultants.

The idea was to provide some “airplane views”, first from say, 200 feet up, to get a sense of the “look and feel” of various uses for the entire site — housing, recreation, community, education, and mixed-use.

As AVV observed, the process then progressed depending on the backgrounds of the people at each table, their passions, as well as familiarity with the charette process. Some attendees sat back to listen, others asked upfront “what the rules are” and “what does the City want from this?”

On the ground details: one table’s solution

(left to right) Table participants Salty Riggs, Read McCullough, Al Burkhalter, Pamela Good and Ryan Good listen as Jody Post makes a point at the start of the first South Ark Neighborhood community design charette. Merrell Bergin photo

At one table, facilitator Aly Burkhalter from Pel-Ona Architects & Urbanists listened to her group first, then quietly worked to dispel any preconceived notions that anyone might have at the outset.

Picking up on themes at the table, she suggested certain templates that participants could place on the map and come to their own conclusions as to the best mix and orientation.

Asked by AVV at the end of the session, Burkhalter explained: “I have  a background in doing this [design charettes] – all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I did sessions like this remotely, before turning to architecture.”

As the table got more comfortable with working collaboratively, ideas began to flow freely and then turn into action. Participants were provided with a table-size map, showing the natural features and topography of the entire site. In addition, a series of colored templates (again to scale) were handed out; showing recreation areas, community buildings, and housing clusters of all types (including how many units are in each). After participants first discussed what their top priorities were, it was time to get out the scissors and start laying the templates into possible configurations.

Each table had a different mix of players; some especially keen on recreation and others driven by multi-generational, workforce housing. The group observed by AVV certainly had a focus on housing – by chance, Read McCullough, Executive Director of the Chaffee Housing Trust, sat with Salty Riggs, leader of the housing advocate group BETCH.

Two other residents provided balance at the table, advocating for a variety of recreation but also coming to consensus that maximizing workforce housing was a key goal and clearly achievable, with room still left for plenty of recreational and community (including CMC) uses. Nearby resident and small business owner Pamela Good provided input from her perspective as well as from one of her young sons (they also came along on Monday night’s chilly site tour). Good stressed the need to plan buffers in the site so all residents could have “quiet enjoyment” of their homes as well as access to site-appropriate recreation for all ages and interests.

Long-time Salida resident Jody Post at first expressed strong preferences for multiple ballfields but also had good ideas on how to plan for walkable trails as well as mixed heights in the housing units to avoid massive elevations, even with a goal of high density.

While the group was cautioned that the maximum number of units that could be built was 400, in practicality the number might be much less. As the groups turned in their pasted up maps (including layouts for trails circumscribing the site), the trade-offs between housing and the land consumed by recreation became apparent.

Takeaways and next steps

At least at this one table, given the consensus and balance participants sought, an amazing tally showed: 304 multi-family units, 72 single-family dwellings with room for two baseball/soccer fields and at least one civic/community space. When reviewed by Community Development staff, this was an impressive demonstration of what impact this could have on workforce housing, though the actual numbers might end up being reduced somewhat.

While other tables showed fewer housing units and other focal points, the clear result was that a once in a lifetime opportunity is here for the taking; to make the highest and best use of the parcel.

A second design workshop/charette was held Thursday evening at Salida High School. The results from all these community inputs will now be given to the consultants to refine and then present the preliminary concepts for public comment from 5:30 p.m. to 7: 30 p.m. on Thursday March 30, at the SteamPlant in Salida.

Editor note: Ark Valley Voice will cover this event and provide updates as they happen in the community. To keep engaged in the process, follow along at: tinyurl.com/39bwjrzc or click the link on the Community Development Department webpage.

Featured image: Cheney Bostic, AICP, LEED AP of StudioSeed kicks off the first community design charette for the South Ark Neighborhood master plan, March 28 at the Salida SteamPlant