Guiding Clear Creek Growth

Growth. After years of stagnation in which the school district faced declining numbers, small businesses struggled, and the Henderson Mine down-sizing caused major consternation in terms of job losses and tax revenue, Clear Creek is looking at a boom. Whether the boom is equivalent to a fire-in-the-hole or a minor nuclear explosion remains to be determined. The likelihood: Somewhere between.

The reasons are myriad. Colorado’s attraction as a desirable place to relocate to remains strong. More immigrants wanting the mountain-living experience are coming. The Front Range continues to blow up population-wise. Summit County is getting priced out, and here at home, we bemoan the declining quality of life as the past becomes a distant memory. Quality of life is relative after all.

The county is already experiencing a pent-up demand for housing, but addressing it poses dilemmas. The first question before us is whether and to what degree we want to manage—control—impending growth or allow unfettered capitalism to have its way.

If the latter, look out. If the former, which I believe is the preference for most Clear Creekers, questions multiply exponentially with the complexity lying in the type—single-family or multi-unit—pricing, and location. They contain conflicting values with the devil in the details.

Right now, Idaho Springs is ground zero for housing development, with a proposal being floated for Soda Creek Highlands in the Pine Slope area and ideas for Digger Field being set forth. With potentially hundreds of new housing units being built, Idaho Springs’ population will explode, changing the town’s face and character.

It’s helpful to know the individuals proposing developments are credible and have solid track records. Regarding Soda Creek Highlands, our former commissioner Kevin O’Malley, a successful Clear Creek realtor for 15 years, has a history of being a successful project leader. During his tenure, he held oversite positions on Clear Creek High-Middle School and the Courthouse remodel. More recently, he helped put and keep together the River Bend development.

After years of potential development at the Georgetown Lagoon falling short, Kurt Soukup is getting it done. His Bighorn Crossing will have 136 housing units. Apparently, Soukup is interested in developing Digger Field next. Concurrently, local architect Mike Caistor suggests multi-use development would be best use. How it shapes up remains to be seen, but the field is prime real estate and the school district must be good stewards with our tax dollars.

All worthy ideas to be considered, but with opportunity comes consternation. The clock on the bucolic life many have enjoyed is ticking and that is a tough pill to swallow. How would the projects impact not only the town but also the greater Clear Creek community? Interstate 70 traffic would increase somewhat but would have greater impact on the town and neighborhoods.

Those concerns, and others, understandably foster concerns in those immediately impacted. It’s interesting to hear them accused of NIMBYism and getting in the way of development then to see the scorners practicing the art when it comes to their space. The truth is we’re all NIMBYites and a moderate degree of NIMBYism can be a good thing. It’s called careful planning.

In the end, the potential projects are neither good nor bad; they just are. Each person judges and lays his/her values on them.

In the Courant article a few weeks ago about proposals for managing the overuse of Guanella Pass, one student pointed out how a new normal eventually becomes the normal. That’s Clear Creek growth: A new normal.


Program Note: Kevin O’Malley was on the Rabbit Hole with me on KYGT this past Saturday talking about the Soda Creek Highlands project. Click here to listen to the recording as well as the conversation I had with  Housing Authority Coordinator Sally Rush talk about the 2018 Housing Needs Assessment.

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