Making Winter Park more sustainable: Town partners with CU Denver student for sustainability plan |

Making Winter Park more sustainable: Town partners with CU Denver student for sustainability plan

WINTER PARK — Less than two months after the town of Winter Park approved its Imagine Winter Park master plan, it is already getting started on tackling some of the goals the plan identified, namely pertaining to the healthy and thriving environment section.

Andrew Williams, a graduate student from the University of Colorado Denver, is partnering with the town to complete a sustainability assessment that will identify what measures the town is already taking and where the town could implement sustainable policies and practices.

“Having worked on a plan in another mountain community, I thought that I might have some skills I could bring over from that, but also (Winter Park) is an interesting community to work in and to help implement some of that change,” Williams said.

Williams, originally from Central Florida, became involved in urban planning and sustainability issues after seeing developments “leaving people behind.” Since then, he has worked with other Colorado mountain towns, such as Dillon and Boulder, on creating development plans.

“Sustainability is not going to be an overnight thing. We’d like to know what we should be planning for in the future.”-Mara Owen, Winter Park town planner

He has witnessed how planning, and urban planning in particular, has impacted the environment and local communities. He recognized that sustainability was a big part of successful community planning.

“I just came to see planning and sustainability as a way to help communities and the residents,” he said.

At a workshop with the Winter Park Town Council in early February, council members provided Williams with some ideas of what they would like to see the assessment focus on, such as ways to promote healthy and sustainable water and energy use.

“Over the years, the one thing we’ve had some conversations on and action on is water and that’s a big one for us,” said Mike Periolat, Winter Park town council member. “It really does help us, if not to have actual numbers, but if we do have an (outline) of these … things you can do within departments just from a new ordinance.”

Ultimately, Williams said he wants the assessment to outline how these issues affect the community and what’s being done, to identify gaps, include goals and suggest ideas for these issues.

Many of the council members’ suggestions, as well as suggestions made by town staff, highlighted goals and ideas from the Imagine Winter Park plan, such as working toward becoming a dark sky community and having wildlife-proof trash bins.

Mara Owen, Winter Park town planner, said it is important not only to follow up on goals the town has identified, but also to base the assessment on what the community wants and will support.

“It can’t just be what (the town) thinks is good, but what the community is actually going to go for and say is important,” Owen said.

Williams agreed and said he plans to reach out to the community because it’s important for the assessment, which is a baseline for the town to reference for future projects and plans, to reflect both what the town and its residents want for their community.

“It’s important to have the town and the community be on the same page to understand what shared visions and goals are there,” Williams said. “We’re making sure there’s a lot of opportunities for us to be all on the same page and make sure the goals and the assessments coming out is useful.”

Aside from reaching out to the community and continuing conversations with the town, Williams will also be interviewing experts on the issues and researching what other nearby towns have done.

Owen said Williams’ role is similar to a consultant, where the town is relying on his perspective.

“One thing we’re really excited about with having a student who’s focused on sustainability is to kind of see what the new technology coming out looks like and maybe having some new ideas coming into the community that wouldn’t otherwise,” she said.

Then, all of that information will be compiled into the assessment. Owen said the town hopes to use the assessment to move forward with its sustainability plan and specific goals.

“Sustainability is not going to be an overnight thing,” she said. “We’d like to know what we should be planning for in the future.”

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