Carbondale candidates tackle crisis resilience, growth, discourse and more at forum | AspenTimes.com
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Carbondale candidates tackle crisis resilience, growth, discourse and more at forum

Incumbent Carbondale Trustee Luis Yllanes, center, makes a point during the Carbondale Candidates Forum Wednesday night at Town Hall, as candidates Frosty Merriott, left, and Zane Kessler listen.
John Stroud/Post Independent

Carbondale voters who want to see progress toward more affordable housing while maintaining small-town character and also tackling climate change, wildfire mitigation, drought preparedness and Latino relations are the real winners in the upcoming Town Council election.

That’s because little separates the eight candidates for three open seats on the Carbondale Board of Trustees in the April 5 town election philosophically on those issues.

But there are some nuances in the approach each would take to get there, as candidate Colin Quinn pointed out when the question of improving public discourse came up during a Wednesday night candidates forum.



“It seems when you read the paper that we all think the same, but when you listen to the answers to some of these questions there’s actually a bit of diversity in how we plan to do things,” Quinn said.

The forum, held at Carbondale Town Hall and sponsored by the Sopris Sun newspaper and KDNK radio, can be heard in its entirety at kdnk.org and is also on the town of Carbondale’s Youtube channel.




It featured all of the candidates for trustee, incumbents Luis Yllanes and Erica Sparhawk, former longtime trustee Frosty Merriott and challengers Quinn, Jess Robison, Colin Laird, Zane Kessler and Chris Hassig.

Current Trustee Ben Bohmfalk, who is running unopposed for the open mayor’s seat, also participated.

Asked how the community can be more resilient in the face of crises such as the pandemic, wildfires and the like, all of the candidates pointed to the impacts of climate change that underscored some of those crises in recent years.

The intense drought years of 2018 and 2020 when the Lake Christine and Grizzly Creek fires raged were a major wake-up call, candidates said.

The town’s Climate Action Plan contains a lot of the tools to address the problem locally and prepare for the impacts, Yllanes said.

“We can do more with the resources we have to meet those goals,” he said, adding a lot comes down to “what we do as a community to address climate change.”

Kessler deals with water resource concerns and drought issues through his work with the Colorado River District. “Preparing our communities for a hotter, drier future … that’s what resiliency means,” he said.

The fact that Carbondale nearly ran out of water the same summer as the Lake Christine Fire when the Crystal River almost ran dry should have been a huge wake-up call, he said.

Merriott said he left the town board in 2018 thinking the town was in good shape with its climate action goals.

“A lot of people believe in climate change now, where they didn’t just four or five years ago,” he said in reference to the catastrophic fire events and last summer’s resulting debris flows in Glenwood Canyon brought on by unprecedented rainfall.

Other candidates spoke to resilience in terms of Carbondale’s response to the pandemic.

“For me, resilience begins with community cohesion … making sure we’re looking out for each other and taking care of the most vulnerable,” Hassig said. “It definitely starts with community and making sure we feel like a community.”

Robison said that getting to know her neighbors and their needs was a big focus for her at the onset of the pandemic.

“Some people may not have the tools to communicate their needs,” she said. “It’s important to have those means of communication functioning in times of emergency and crisis.”

Another key issue for the town was stated in a question related to balancing growth and meeting the need for affordable housing with environmental stewardship and maintaining small-town character.

Sparhawk applauded Carbondale for maintaining its requirement that all new residential projects of five or more units include 20% of the units as deed-restricted affordable housing. Other neighboring communities, including Glenwood Springs, did away with those requirements when the housing market softened, and are just now reinstating them, she noted.

Carbondale Trustee candidate Jess Robison, left, makes a point as incumbent Trustee Erica Sparhawk listens during the candidates forum at Carbondale Town Hall Wednesday night.
John Stroud/Post Independent

Affordability can be obtained through encouraging infill development rather than sprawl through new land annexations. That kind of development is also more likely to be energy efficient, said Sparhawk, who works for the Carbondale-based nonprofit Clean Energy Economy for the Region.

“Some people don’t want to see this town grow at all,” Quinn noted. “That would be nice if we could keep things affordable, but that’s just not possible.”

Laird noted that housing affordability has been an issue on and off during his three decades in Carbondale.

“We need an affordable housing plan, and we need it fast,” he said. “It’s something we need to move on very quickly. And we need to think regionally, because every community has the same problem.”

The candidates also agreed on issues including improving communication channels with and engagement by the town’s Latino community, and maintaining healthy public discourse on controversial issues, such as the town’s recent debate about regulating short-term rental properties.

Candidates were also asked their position on the lone ballot question on the April 5 ballot — taking on $8 million in debt using the town’s dedicated recreation sales taxes to build a new town pool.

All of the incumbents said they support the proposal and trust that the process to come up with a plan to replace the aging pool facility was thorough. Some of the challengers said they’re undecided, and wonder if expanding the pool on the existing site is the best plan, and whether the facility can be truly built with energy and water efficiency in mind.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.


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