A crowd estimated to be between 300 to 400 people gathered at the Salida SteamPlant for an Open House hosted by the city of Salida and the consulting group Studio Seed on the evening of January 31.
The purpose of the Open House was to allow the public to view and weigh in on potential development plans for the “South Ark Neighborhood”, a 100-acre section of the Vandaveer Ranch property on the south side of Highway 50 near its intersection with State Highway 291.
The Open House was set up with several photo-based “storyboards” scattered around the perimeter of the ballroom, each devoted to a different theme for developing the 100-acre parcel: “Background information” gave a history of the city’s acquisition of the property and called for weigh-in on the community’s development priorities and concerns; “Housing” put forward several different alternatives for neighborhood look and feel; “Other Preferences” put forward ideas for use beyond recreation and housing, such as retail; small farm development and educational. Flipcharts for comments were placed by each station.
Salida’s Community Development Director, Bill Almquist, welcomed the crowd and stressed that the Open House was the first of a number of such events planned for public input into the city’s master plan process for the South Ark Neighborhood, a process he said would take about nine months before being presented to the Planning Commission and the City Council.
Cheney Bostic from Studio Seed, the consulting firm hired by the city to help with the process, also spoke, asking for input on how to format future community meetings.
Judging from the comments left on the flip charts, the Salida community appears to have varied and sometimes mutually contradictory opinions on what to do with the Vandaveer property. While many comments went into detail on desires to see more housing and more recreation opportunities, for example, others expressed themselves more starkly.
“LEAVE IT ALONE” was scrawled in all caps across one of the flip charts calling for suggestions on “Other Uses”.
The sentiment was echoed by long-time Salida resident and former publisher of Colorado Central Magazine Mike Rosso: “They should leave it all alone [as open space]” he said to this reporter, dismissing the idea of developing housing on the property as a boondoggle that would benefit developers but do little to address the dire need for workforce housing that plagues Salida as well as other mountain Colorado communities.
Others took a more nuanced approach in expressing their opinions. Concert promoter Clark Roberts, while expressing a desire to see the Vandaveer property remain as open space, also saw the need for “equitable housing opportunities”, finishing by saying, “It’s hard for those of us who came a long time ago to say we shouldn’t have more housing, but development breeds more development, retail breeds more retail…it’s hard to say where it’s all going to end.”
“It’s too early in the process to say how I feel about it,” said another long-time Chaffee County resident, Trish Cullinan.
“I’ve had a lot of people coming up in my face very passionate about everything,” said Salida Mayor Dan Shore: “‘Housing! Open space!’ – and I’ve had to say, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa – we’re just at the beginning of the process here’”.
Former Mayor P.T. Wood, now a Chaffee County Commissioner, filled in a little history on the project. “We got the property back from [Ron] Mazzeo (then President of the Salida Natural Resource Center Development Corporation) when I was mayor in 2018. I’m glad to see the [master plan] process going again – a little sad that it’s taken 15 years, but I think the original development plan, with the golf course and more upscale neighborhood, wouldn’t have been a good fit for Salida.”