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An architectural rendering shows the view of the proposed Salida Crossings condominium development as seen by west-bound traffic on U.S. Highway 50 (courtesy image).

Salida City Council voted 5-1 against a motion to repeal Ordinance 2018-04, which approved the Salida Crossings Planned Development. The vote by council means the ordinance will go before Salida voters in a special election scheduled for Sept. 25.

Council members Mike Bowers and Rusty Granzella originally voted against the ordinance, but Bowers cast the sole vote to repeal the ordinance with Granzella stating that his vote against repeal was to “turn it over to voters” and let Salida residents decide.

The vote on the ordinance was required by state law following a successful petition campaign spearheaded by former mayor Jim LiVecchi and former councilman Hal Brown. Since the issue was not subject to a public hearing, several local citizens voiced opinions about the ordinance during the community citizen participation portion of the meeting.

Lornie Lawry, whose property adjoins the proposed development, claimed, “This ordinance violates the city code. … Some people have commented that those of us who are … trying to hold the council members accountable for upholding the city codes are costing the city money by requiring a special election. That is totally wrong. … The ones who are costing the city the expense of a special election are the council members who voted yes on Ordinance 2018-04. They are the ones who voted to break the rules of the city code.”

Former Salida mayor Jim LiVecchi stated, “I really feel there should be a public hearing on this. … This is going to change the whole character of Salida. I think there should’ve been more involvement with the community as a whole, which I don’t think has been done.”

Monika Griesenbeck also requested a public hearing. She then suggested that city council investigate potential traffic issues at the nearby intersection of U.S. Highway 50 and state Highway 291, even though it was made clear at previous public hearings that the Colorado Department of Transportation has jurisdiction over the two highways, not Salida City Council.

Local business owner Nicole Balaun submitted a letter signed by 78 local business owners supporting council’s decision on the Salida Crossings project. “We need a project like this,” she said. “We are all lacking in help. Our workforce is disappearing because we don’t have adequate housing. … Please help the business community better serve you by supporting this endeavor.”

Rob Gartzman, who co-owns three Salida restaurants with his wife, also spoke in support of the project. “We have seen the struggles of our employees finding affordable housing in this town. … While this development might not be perfect … it’s much cheaper than the alternatives we currently have in town. … I’ve heard plenty of the opposition to it, but I have not heard another solution, just complaints.”

Ken Matthews, who serves on the Chaffee Housing Trust and has a program about affordable housing on radio station FM 106.9 KHEN, said he has had multiple conversations with local employers, developers and policymakers. “Every employer I talk to mimics what Mr. Gartzman said. … There is a huge need (for this) in our community.”

When city council members began discussing the Salida Crossings ordinance, Mayor P.T. Wood noted, “There have been seven public hearings on this issue, and the city council has made a decision. We are just here tonight to either reaffirm or not reaffirm that decision.”

Councilman Granzella noted that, based on the recent community survey, the top two priorities of the community ‒ affordable housing and preservation of the small-town character of Salida – are “clashing.”

Councilwoman Cheryl Brown-Kovacic said she “was struck by the same thing” and expressed hope that the work on the Highway 50 corridor, which was recently funded by a grant from Community Builders, will help determine a good balance between the two top priorities identified by the survey.

“I do believe that we have done a very proper process here,” Brown-Kovacic continued. “I also want to make it clear we are not violating our code. This is in our code. … We can make exceptions, and we have followed all of the procedures for that. So we are not in violation of the code.”

Councilman Harald Kasper said he disagrees with the idea that Salida Crossings is threatening the “small-town feel” of Salida. “That feel has not so much to do with buildings. It has to do with people, and if we can keep the people in town that work here, we have more of a chance to keep that connection.”

Councilman Dan Shore noted that change can be uncomfortable and it’s impossible to stop change. He then asked why we can’t come together as a community and craft a plan. “It’s way easier to be against everything than to be for something, and I continue to be for Salida Crossings.”

Councilman Bowers said, “I’m one of them that voted against this, and I done it for a reason. … Because of the way Salida’s been taken care of and managed is the reason it’s so attractable to people … . However there are some that come here that want to change everything, and that includes our laws. The laws are clearly in place about the height, the density and the obscurement of a person’s view.”

Bowers said he’s seen affordable housing and he’s seen it “squashed and replaced by condominiums.” He also said he doesn’t agree that “we don’t have anyplace to sprawl as has been talked (about),” then mentioned the Vandaveer property and Piñon Hills as possibilities.