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Town shifts site for greenhouses

In the midst of numerous land deals during last Wednesday’s special meeting of the Pagosa Springs Town Council (see related story), the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP) was given consideration for a revised lease on town land accommodating a proposed project installing geothermally heated greenhouses in Centennial Park.

While that revised lease indicates some vacillation by the town regarding placement of the project, the GGP did win a concession from council during the meeting: Approving the county signing off on the Region 9 Economic Development District’s Community Development Action Plan (CDAP) with the condition of placing the GGP’s project in the top-five priorities of the CDAP.

Archuleta County’s CDAP includes 48 potential projects separated into categories such as public infrastructure, transportation, telecommunications, services (such as childcare and early childhood education), education and culture, health and human services, land use, parks and recreation, public safety, economic development (including business development, expansion, retention and attraction), tourism, workforce development, housing (including affordable workforce housing) and agriculture (including geothermal greenhouses). Projects within these categories are then rated as high, medium or low, indicating the community’s interest (and thus, funding priorities) for completing the items.

Although the town’s proviso for accepting the county’s CDAP signaled council’s support for the GGP and their project, the revised lease was the result of the town’s willingness to push the GGP aside in order to make room for a proposed $7.5 million bridge.

Last January, Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem and Pagosa Springs Town Planner James Dickhoff told the GGP that discussions were taking place with property owners Matt Mees and Bill Dawson regarding disposition of land the two own, located across the San Juan River south of the Fifth Street terminus and adjacent to the west of The Springs Resort.

Dickhoff explained at the January GGP meeting that the possibility existed for the construction of a bridge linking Fifth Street to the Mees and Dawson property.

Later that month, both Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon and Mitchem said that discussions regarding the bridge were merely preliminary — “Just thinking out loud,” the mayor said.

Aragon also claimed that ideas for a Fifth Street bridge had been brought up to council before, saying, “That has been going on for years.”

However, when the GGP was granted a lease on town land on the west end of Centennial Park, the issue of a bridge at Fifth Street was never raised. In fact, the GGP had twice developed site plans for the project (the latest presented last month, as reported in the Dec. 22 edition of The SUN), with neither plan providing allowances for a potential right of way necessitated by a traffic bridge crossing the river from Fifth Street.

January’s meeting put the GGP on notice that previous plans would need to be shifted east if plans for a bridge moved forward, with both Aragon and Mitchem saying then that they did not think those revised plans would cause delays in building a greenhouse.

In fact, in an interview with SUN staff last November, Aragon expressed confidence that progress would proceed quickly on the project.

“I’m almost one-hundred percent positive that we’ll be moving on that by early summer,” Aragon said in that interview.

At last Wednesday’s meeting, Dickhoff included in his report the fact that the GGP had received a $25,000 grant for planning and design. That same report added that, “They (the GGP) hope to see the first dome installed by the end of 2012.”

When appealing to council for placing the project as a priority on the CDAP, GGP member Kathy Keyes supported Aragon’s earlier timeline. Claiming that the project had moved beyond the first phase, Keyes added, “We’re now working on the second phase. With the mayor’s guidance, we believe we’re going to have the first dome up this summer.”

The revised land lease was discussed following a motion by trustee Darrell Cotton, seconded by trustee Clint Alley, to approve the CDAP with the condition of listing the GGP project in the CDAP’s top-five priorities.

The revised lease indicated that the revised site plan shaved about an acre off the project’s original footprint.

Following an explanation by Dickhoff on the impetus for a revised lease (referring again to rights of way for a proposed Fifth Street bridge), Mitchem added that the GGP project would not only place three greenhouse domes in Centennial Park, but might also include a visitor center for the project.

“We think that a visitors center will fit within this footprint,” Mitchem said. “There will be additional information that we’ll bring to you in the future,” Mitchem added, stating that the GGP is, “assessing its needs.”

Keyes agreed that the revised lease should still provide adequate room for the GGP project, but added that the new location would reduce the project’s visibility from U.S. 160. Speaking to the benefits a Fifth Street bridge would have on downtown development, Keyes responded affirmatively to a question from Alley that the GGP was in favor of the revised lease.

Local middle school teacher and GGP board member Sally High reiterated that, despite the revised lease, the project would include a dome for educational purposes, a food-production dome and a dome dedicated for community gardening, with space inside the dome for year-round growing and additional space around the domes for seasonal gardening.

High’s comments were partly in response to a question from local resident and gardener Anna O’Reilly, a fixture with the current community garden in Centennial Park.

O’Reilly asked if the current location of the community garden fell within the proposed Fifth Street bridge right of way.

Dickhoff responded that the garden falls squarely within that right of way, but would be, as High said, situated in and around the geothermally-heated greenhouse domes.

Dickhoff informed council that the GGP’s revised lease would be presented to the council in the near future.

While plans for a bridge across the San Juan River at Fifth Street have apparently taken precedence over the GGP’s proposed project, that group remains steadfast in its determination to move forward with constructing domes in Centennial Park this year. With a new lease on town land and a demand from council to place the GGP project among the top five priorities in the county’s CDAP, GGP members could have sufficient reason for believing that their long-standing dream will become a reality.

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