On master plans and global warming

The town of Basalt is contemplating its future, which will have a great effect on the whole Roaring Fork Valley. The Town Council has a development master plan on the table. As always, there is a struggle from those who favor more development and those who have concerns about the effects of more development.

We live in world dedicated to development. How has that worked out for us? Diagnosis: continuous economic industrial development is killing us. We have global warming.

Many will say a community must keep developing or die. But due to larger economic forces, we have had periods without growth and survived. We can look back to the end of the silver standard, the Great Depression, the change in the coal markets, the savings-and-loan meltdown, oil shortages, Black Sunday and the Great Recession. The valley is still here. Now we must decide how we can survive global warming. You can’t build your way out of climate change.

One of the developing community’s favorite tools is the “master plan.” Parcels of land are identified along with possibilities for their development. Professional planners are employed to facilitate the process. I can’t remember a planning consultant who recommended against development. Building is a given. It then becomes a process of convincing the public not to fight the inevitable effects.

The master plan becomes the “green light,” the target on the back. Once the projects are identified in concept, and passed by law, the town has officially conceded its ability to say no. The developer starts the game of satisfying the development codes. In most cases, a town becomes saddled with the external infrastructure costs. The public is then footing the bill for roads, utilities, larger schools and all the other public services. The town, and the surrounding areas, are forced to expand again to accommodate the additional service people.

The smartest thing the Basalt Council could do is to table the current plan indefinitely. There are plenty of good reasons. 1. Don’t hamstring the new council with something they may not want. 2. Any plan should only be approved in referendum. 3. The effects on the area of already approved projects are not yet known. 4. A “real” plan to combat global warming needs to be created. Strategies for community resilience should supersede growth. 5. Water shortage from climate change is happening. 6. Economic effects will result from shorter winters.

In every graph of the predicted effects of global warming, “business as usual” has a disastrous outcome. The patient dies.

Patrick Hunter