Growth of the City of Salida is inevitable. Its environment and natural beauty and its proximity to more crowded resort and recreational areas will drive this growth for better or for worse. Left on its own, market forces will shape the character of our community. There is no guarantee that these market forces will lead to changes that will benefit Salida’s current residents. That requires leadership with vision. Such leadership can come only from the election to city council of candidates whose contributions will be worth more than the $150 per month the city now pays.
The City of Salida 2013 Comprehensive Plan contains growth projections for the city and Chaffee County, and discusses the challenges that this growth imposes as well as proposals for dealing with these challenges. Discussing those by the current candidates will help the voters decide which candidates are best suited to lead the city in the future. A basic question for the candidates to answer is: Should the city provide incentives or counter-incentives to the population growth of the area, or otherwise manage this growth, and if so how? To facilitate dialog about this growth, the following selection of subjects, which have been discussed on and off in recent years, is suggested.
Westward Development: Salida and Chaffee County have the potential to develop many of the agricultural lands into residential lands. Currently, there are many outlying large parcels of land in the Salida region that are ripe for the future expansion of this market. Land west of Salida between Highways 291 and 50 has been considered promising for city expansion. Should this be encouraged? And how, if at all, should the city attempt to shape such development?
Traffic: While parking is often raised as an issue, it is part of the broader traffic issue. Traffic includes the flow of passenger cars, trucks and commercial vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians to, from and through Salida. The city council of the City of Salida, coordinating with state and federal governments and non-governmental organizations, can determine policies regarding traffic flow in the community that affect the growth of the community as well as the character of life of its residents. To make informed decisions, policy makers need quality data, and experts can and should be consulted to provide traffic and advice to the city. Based on good data, the city should develop an updated, comprehensive traffic plan.
In past years, proposals were made to address specific issues. Relocation of Highway 291 from its current route along 1st Street through downtown Salida to a new route, for example, along the north side of the Arkansas River, has been proposed. The change is one of several ways to reduce traffic on 1st Street and give the city exclusive control of an undivided downtown business and historic district. But creating a bypass north of the river can have disadvantages, and a plan that adds a barrier to access of the hills and trails north of the railroad is generally undesirable.
More recently, a more direct traffic route between Highway 291 and US 50 at the highways’ west portals of Salida has been considered. The corridor would route through-traffic, which now zig-zags through residential streets, more directly between these two portals. Ambulances proceeding from the west US 50 area to the hospital on Hwy 291 would particularly benefit from this. Should issues such as these be explored further? (See Salida Regional Transportation Plan 1, Chapter 2 and Salida Regional Transportation Plan 2.
Union Pacific Land across the Arkansas River: The rail yard on the northern bank of the Arkansas River is currently vacant of any industry, with the exception of the Calco Plant, and creates a barrier to access the popular recreational amenities of the Salida Mountain Trails system. In addition to the railroad right of way, which the railroad is not likely to give up, there are 60 to 150 acres of the former rail yard that could be added to the city. The idea of parks, shops and recreational sites on both sides of the river would greatly enhance Salida’s downtown. Should the City devote any effort to shaping the development of the land north of the Arkansas River?
The Vandaveer Ranch: The Vandaveer Ranch has been the only growth-related subject to be significantly addressed by the current Salida City Council. The Vandaveer Ranch is a 191 acre site acquired by the city in 2004. This site includes frontage along US Hwy 50 east of the existing commercial core along with additional lands appropriate for residential and recreation uses. The Vandaveer Ranch property provides an opportunity to create a substantial gateway to Salida and the Arkansas Valley. On it is constructed the multi-agency Natural Resource Center along US Hwy 50. The community had also identified the Vandaveer Ranch as a potential site for an institution of higher education. It has been considered the best and most immediate opportunity for also adding recreation, affordable housing, and light industrial development. The ranch has been owned by the non-profit NRCDC for the benefit of the community and was, until recently, under the substantial control and influence of the elected officials of the city and committed to pursue comprehensive development plan. The current city council, however, moved in the opposite direction. It killed a proposal that promised to provide affordable housing and infrastructure to the property (see Lowry/Belmont), it came very close to permanently disposing of the entire property (see Fire Sale), and it ultimately gave up all public control over, and rights to, the Vandaveer Ranch (see Divestiture). The current council thereby brought the community close to losing Vandaveer forever and squandering the opportunities for future growth. So the candidates should address what they think the city should do going forward with respect to the NRCDC and the Vandaveer Ranch property.