Careful what you wish for
Let me say right up front I’m not a Carbondale resident and I didn’t vote recently on the proposed commercial development on Highway 133.
But I’ve driven through Carbondale pretty much every day since I moved to Redstone 10 years ago. My wife and I enjoy its shops and restaurants and the movie theater although the tired City Market not so much. We have a natural interest in seeing Carbondale healthy.
I thought the images in some valley newspapers of the winning voters dancing on the grave of the developer in a Main Street bar in poor taste, their whole celebration actually. Who knows what the out-of-work tradesmen, contractors, artisans and other Carbondale residents thought, or the foreclosed homeowners and folks whose homes’ values are still falling, seeing hopes for a stronger town set back further. I can only conjecture they thought the David majority beating the Goliath developer pretty cold comfort.
But democracy won the day, however troubling its outcome for Carbondale.
I don’t believe this will be perceived by outsiders, including small-business owners trying to expand, people considering moving to Carbondale, entrepreneurs and developers, as being about stopping a development on Highway 133. They’ll see Carbondale pulling the shutters down. Who would want to invest money in Carbondale now or ever? Who would want to go to the trouble of a now-almost-guaranteed rejection when there are more vigorous and healthy towns in the Roaring Fork Valley (Basalt, Glenwood) or the Interstate 70 corridor (Edwards, Rifle, Avon) who’ll welcome them?
The majority has said, “We have our identity and want to protect it. We’re a town of lotus eaters. Leave us in our blissful apathy.” Trouble is, a rising tide floats all boats just as an ebbing one strands them, and the tide seems now to be turning for Carbondale. The town lacks a coherent economic plan, and a majority of its residents have said to people willing to invest in it, “We don’t want your money.” I heard not a single significant, intelligent growth idea to enhance Carbondale’s economic health during the debates. Nothing to help people get back to work or save their homes. Less economic activity means stalled or falling revenues for the city, which will be forced progressively to reduce services. It will lead to an unhappy spiral downward albeit probably a slow one.
The joke in the valley has always been that Carbondale did not know what sort of a town it wanted to be when it grew up. Locked in the ’60s and ’70s or part of the 21st century? A directionless town surrounded by slums or a healthy community for families to grow in? So a majority of its residents has now formally decided – it’s a town concerned more with its past than its future, one (unhappily) disinterested in its struggling residents and businesses, slowly watching the tide run out.
I wonder whose grave was really being danced on.