By Leanne Goebel Journal Correspondent
PAGOSA SPRINGS — Pagosa Town Manager Mark Garcia is enjoying the growth spurt his community is currently enjoying.
“The growth issues in Pagosa Springs are significant,” Garcia said in recent telephone interview. Garcia, a civil engineer by trade, has been the administrator of Pagosa Springs for almost three years. Soft spoken and friendly, Garcia smiles and manages his politically charged position with aplomb.
“In my 11 years working with the town, growth has been nothing like we are seeing now. In August we surpassed the all time high for building permits issued by the Town. We’re so busy, we haven’t even had time to compile the data,” Garcia said.
Pagosa Springs is known for its hot springs, its natural beauty and skiing in one of the last family-owned ski areas in the country. Incorporated in 1891, the primary industries were ranching, logging and lumber. The railroad didn’t arrive until 1900 and flood and fires destroyed much of the town between 1911 and 1921. The last lumber mill closed 30 years ago.
Today, Pagosa Springs is a sales tax-dependent town whose primary industries are tourism and construction. The second-home market accounts for 23 percent of housing in the County. In August 2003, The Rocky Mountain News ran an article about Pagosa Springs with the headline: “Paradise Found.” A year later, media coverage of the proposed Village at Wolf Creek put Pagosa Springs on the radar screen in articles from Minneapolis to San Antonio. In December 2004, Cowboys & Indians magazine proclaimed that Pagosa Springs was “Colorado’s Best Kept Secret.”
The secret is out. Today, Erik Estrada hawks land in Pagosa Lakes during infomercials for National Recreational Properties, Inc. — and realtors are the happiest people in town.
The population numbers for Pagosa Springs are deceiving. The town has a population of 1,618. Yet, 88 percent of the population of Archuleta County resides within the urbanized Pagosa Springs area, which includes Pagosa Lakes, a property owners association that is not within town boundaries. Population estimates suggest that 8,235 people reside within the county directly adjacent to Pagosa Springs, giving the greater Pagosa Springs area a population of approximately 9,853 people.
And then there are the tourists and part-time residents. This summer, the peak population for the greater Pagosa Springs area is estimated to have hit 16,444.
Town Planner Tamra Allen has her hands full with projects that are bigger and more elaborate than the town has seen in years. Allen has a degree in urban planning, rides her bike or walks to work on most days, where she juggles large projects like the 100-acre multiuse development, Aspen Village, and the 174-unit Trujillo Heights subdivision.
“It’s difficult to make long-range planning decisions without a comprehensive plan,” Allen said.
“We need a comprehensive plan to steer us into the future. A plan that the community embraces,” Garcia added.
The community has not embraced a conceptual downtown master plan unveiled in November of last year. Significant growth issues and a desire to strengthen the town’s economy spurred local business leaders and the mayor to create the Community Vision Council (CVC). The CVC, under the guidance of David J. Brown and Mayor Ross Aragon, raised the funds necessary to pay for the development of a conceptual master plan. The plan was then turned over to the town for adoption-a process that included public comment. The community was highly critical of the plan and in vocal public meetings, hundreds crammed into a gymnasium where emotions ran high. Citizens accused the CVC of being elitist by not including long-time local residents, a charge the mayor patently denied. “We’re community oriented and we had representation (on the CVC) from all sectors,” Aragon said in an interview last December.
The conceptual master plan focuses on restoring and revitalizing the historic downtown district, approximately one square mile.
“Ideally, we would have had a comprehensive plan prior to this boom,” Allen said. “Timing requires that we’re doing both (the comprehensive plan and the downtown master plan) simultaneously.”
Typically, the process begins with a comprehensive plan and then from that comprehensive plan a master plan is developed for the downtown corridor, design guidelines are fleshed out, parks and trails plan is drawn up, and a cultural plan is created.
The town is working with Clarion Associates to develop the comprehensive plan and has hired Winter and Company to direct phase two of the master plan — taking the concept and turning it into reality.
A Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) was set up and currently 10 residents of Pagosa Springs and 10 residents of the greater urban area are helping Clarion create visions and goals for the future. There have already been several opportunities for the public to comment on the process.
“Things are happening in this interim time period that we may not like and may not fit the plan,” CAC member Patsy Lindblad said. “It’s a shame that the brakes can’t be put on in some way. There ought to be some sort of guidelines that people are working against.”
There are some guidelines. The town recently re-codified its entire municipal code and updated planning documents that were 10 years old. There are certain development standards that must be met.
“But it doesn’t mean we have a good document to work with in terms of planning and design,” Allen was quick to add. Without a comprehensive planning document that is supported by community input, Allen said it is “difficult to make long range planning decisions.”
Some members of the CAC committee are still confused by the process and how it differs from the master plan. Archuleta County wants to create its own comprehensive plan and the concern is that these efforts will not tie together.
“With all these things going simultaneously, at some point, they will have to ‘true up’ and see if they are overlapping,” Lindblad, a former executive with AT&T; said. She added she realizes that Pagosa Springs is a small town with limited resources. “If we did this sequentially, we’d never get there,” she added.
Allen understands. “It’s a lot for us to palate.”
Garcia echoed that not everyone likes the taste of growth. “It’s been really tough politically. Change is difficult for a lot of people.”