Survey shows residents value planning for growth
April 7, 2010
When the Grand Foundation, the Grand County Board of County Commissioners and the Grand County Needs Assessment Committee contracted with the National Research Center to conduct a county-wide needs assessment, their intention was to explore and obtain a better understanding of “the perspectives, experiences and needs of Grand County residents.” The hope was that would allow them to be able to work together to strengthen the community’s infrastructure and to achieve a vision for the county that meets the residents’ current needs, anticipates projected needs and sustains the quality of life for Grand County residents into the future.
The fourth most important category, rated by Grand County residents who participated in the survey, is “Planning and Growth.” Admitting that “planning of any kind rarely inspires the enthusiasm of the typical community member,” there was surprisingly strong support among residents for developing a strategic plan for the community. This enthusiasm was more prevalent in the eastern and central parts of the county, where attractiveness to visitors fuels the economy.
With “sense of community” and “small-town atmosphere” having been identified as compelling values for residents, the enthusiasm for planning makes sense. The speed and mode of growth can make or break us. Developing a community or county-wide strategic plan was rated as highly important to ensure quality residential and commercial development. But, the importance of slowing growth and development received mixed ratings, representing a community split in opinions on the amount of new growth to allow in Grand County.
Some felt retail and jobs growth were not keeping up with population growth and the increasing number of second-home owners, while lower-income residents in particular thought that population growth and growth in the number of second and vacation homes was too fast.
Well designed communities promote ease of travel, offer housing suited to residents’ needs, permit services that make activities of daily living convenient, foster employment and provide recreation and entertainment. Public safety, neighborliness, increased civic activity and improved fitness have also been associated with good land-use planning and a well-built environment. These planning functions usually fall to local government, making this needs assessment our community’s call to action.
The location of Highway 40 in eastern Grand County is a problem recognized by Winter Park residents who want to keep a small-town feel in the area. As one focus group participant noted, “Having the highway go right through our main street, it is not conducive to a place to go and hang out and walk around.” Terms such as “strip mall-y” and “mish-moshy” described other focus group member perceptions. The majority of residents found that the quality of new commercial and residential development affects their quality of life and what they have seen so far in the county confirms their worries. “I do not think the architectural beauty has been something the town has ever focused on,” said one participant.
The dilemma of communities having growing pains is particularly evident in attractive rural resort areas such as ours, where forest boundaries force development into denser enclaves, observed the assessment.
Second-home owners also participated in interviews, and they have concerns as well about a well-planned community. Said one, “I think the infrastructure needs to be well planned so we have adequate roads, parking systems, sewers, water recycling. When places grow fast, the infrastructure falls behind, and it is inadequate for the growth for the community. Also I would like to see much more strict zoning requirements on what can be built so we have more consistency and not so much junk.”
Add to the mix of residents who want better planned growth the independent spirit of mountain dwellers. The potential intrusion on property rights than plans can impose has to be balanced with growth management. The vast majority of Grand County residents believes that the growth in the number of second homes is too fast, and close to a majority of residents want to slow growth and development overall in Grand County. However, not all growth is seen to be undesirable, as job growth and growth in retail (restaurants and shops) are considered to be too slow by most residents. Ambivalence poses challenges, so our planners must find ways to create the right balance.
What are the key opportunities identified in this portion of the study? Develop a plan for growth in the county, with new development a part of a comprehensive land-use and County strategic plan, dispelling the idea that development is haphazard. Questions to be answered include where will growth occur; what mix of housing types, office and retail development should be encouraged; how will infrastructure be paid for as development occurs? Consider a partnership with other communities that have faced these problems to seek solutions that have worked elsewhere (for example, Highway 40 through Winter Park is not unlike the Colorado River through Glenwood Springs).
Also identify funding and personnel to deliver desirable development in the context of community preferences for more jobs and retail, fewer second homes and the different needs among residents in different parts of the county with different economics. Include economic development in strategic planning to bring in the right types of businesses and jobs. Actively promote volunteerism. Consider community design and land-use principles that protect the core features of Grand County – smart growth means community planning and land use to provide opportunities for civic life and activity, protect the natural environment and encourage physical activity and recreation.
Only 3 percent of assessment respondents rated the quality of planning services in Grand County as excellent; 21 percent rated planning services as good, 47 percent said fair and 30 percent judged such services as poor. The Needs Assessment clearly revealed a call to action from study respondents to Grand County government that a strategic plan is key to our quality of life. The fundamental beauty that draws us and keeps us here will remain as long as decision-makers remain vigilant.