Pagosa Springs Town Planner James Dickhoff, in conjunction with the wayfinding and signage subcommittee from the Town Tourism Committee, will conduct a public input work session some time in early March in order to present plans for a proposed improvement to the Overlook Parking Area downtown next to Tequila’s restaurant.
“As far as keeping this moving forward and maybe having something happen this year,” Dickhoff proposed at the subcommittee’s meeting Monday afternoon, “I would recommend maybe the first week of March you have that public input work session, or sooner.”
“And you’re going to lead that one?” TTC director Jennie Green asked.
“I was going to recommend, considering some of the comments from town council, that maybe it’s not a TTC-driven meeting,” Dickhoff agreed. “I would be happy to present the material, but I would need everybody to back me up.”
“Sure, absolutely,” Jon Johnson, who leads the wayfinding and signage subcommittee, responded. “Thank you.”
“I would be happy to do that,” Dickhoff explained, “to maybe take some of the heat off of the TTC.”
“Except now it’s going to be reported that this is a TTC project,” Green joked, nodding towards SUN staff.
The concern, expressed at this meeting and several others, is that in light of the recent controversy over Reservoir Hill, public opinion has been turned against the TTC to such an extent that any idea they present will be frowned upon simply because of its source.
However, the reaction to Green’s presentation at the Feb. 5 town council meeting seemed to allay that fear.
“First of all, I think it is a great idea,” said Christine Funk, one of the board members of the recently formed Friends of Reservoir Hill group and an outspoken critic of the TTC’s development plan for the Hill. She was the first member of the audience at the town council meeting to step up and respond to Green’s presentation.
“It certainly brings a little more excitement to that area and places for people to stand. I know we’ve had lots of events down there and the pathway gets pretty crowded.”
During her presentation, Green had explained, “The wayfinding and signage subcommittee first came to town council regarding the river overlook structure in June of 2011. There was an identified need for a structure, something that would bring more attention to the overlook.”
In a later e-mail, Green explained to SUN staff in more detail what had been done so far. “We first installed a new pedestrian directional sign (with downtown map on one side and historic walking tour on the other) at the location. We then launched the ambassador program in summer of 2011, and the ambassadors quickly identified a need for signage and shade. Four wooden beams were placed in order to hang sun shades and banner.” This structure was meant to be temporary.
At the town council meeting, Green explained what the TTC proposed doing now. “There are ongoing challenges with the temporary structure. What the wayfinding and signage subcommittee would like to do is continue towards developing a permanent structure at the overlook.
“We have worked with Reynolds and Associates to provide a conceptual rendering. The Streetscape plan that you guys approved in 2008, which we are working towards implementing, identifies a structure at the overlook.” She went on to explain that the plan calls for a pedestrian friendly area with a deck that projects out toward the river with some type of shade structure on top and interpretive signage along the edge of the deck.
During her comments after the presentation, Funk went on to ask several questions about the size of the structure and the increase in the number of parking spaces, noting the need for bathrooms if more events will be organized on the new deck, and how this will affect plans for building an amphitheater in another downtown location.
None of these questions were asked in a critical tone, and all of them received answers. The exchange was constructive, not confrontational. If anything, Funk appeared anxious to see the project move forward.
“Why did it take a year?” Funk asked. “The plans were drawn in January.”
Green explained that planning has continued since then, but that the funds for construction finally became available in this year’s budget.
Funk also asked how this project related to the mission of the TTC’s wayfinding and signage subcommittee.
“The Streetscape and Wayfinding Sign Plan,” Dickhoff responded, “doesn’t just address wayfinding signs. It includes benches, street lighting, trashcans and improvements along the Overlook Parking Area. So, the plan isn’t just signage; it encompasses a lot more.”
“It is a plan for beautification,” Green added.
“And is there going to be public comment on this moving forward before you build it?” Funk asked. “Do you have plans to gather other input from anyone?”
Green assured Funk there would be plenty of opportunity for the public to participate.
Former town council member Shari Pierce who, along with Mary Jo Coulehan from the Chamber of Commerce and Udgar Parsons from the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation, has recently helped form a downtown revitalization task force known as Imagine Downtown and was the next audience member to step up to the microphone.
She brought up concerns about the noise level from U.S. 160 if the town planned on using the area for musical events, as well as the stability of the ground underneath the proposed structure since, historically, that entire area was created on top of backfill. She also wanted to make sure Imagine Downtown was included in the TTC’s planning and discussions.
“I really like the idea of what we’re doing,” council member Kathie Lattin commented. “I just think that the scope of it might be a little big.”
Green explained that the size of the deck would be constrained by the amount of money the TTC has in its budget for the project — $100,000.
“I appreciate the fact that you are bringing this idea to the floor and you are going to be meeting with people,” Lattin added. She then made a motion that the town council allow the TTC to move forward with conducting public meetings to come up with ideas and plans for the project.
Council member Don Volger seconded the motion, adding, “I would also suggest that you work closely with the group that’s working on the downtown stuff and make sure that it fits in with what they’re trying to do so we won’t have any miscommunications.”
“Absolutely,” Green agreed.
Green later confirmed to SUN staff that members of the TTC subcommittee would make a presentation at the Feb. 28 Imagine Downtown meeting.
At the Feb. 11 wayfinding and signage subcommittee meeting, Coulehan agreed with the idea of involving other members of the Imagine Downtown taskforce. As the organizer of the car show every summer, she also expressed excitement for the project.
“If we continue to do well, we will outgrow Lewis Street,” Coulehan said, “and we will have to look at an alternative location for the car show. The first year we did the car show we actually brought things to the Overlook, but we weren’t big enough so we didn’t have enough of a flow. I have to say I am disappointed that there is no Riverfest this year because it created that flow between Lewis Street and the Overlook and the river.”
Local architect Courtney King, who created the artistic renderings Green used for her presentation to town council, agreed to make changes to her drawings based on the feedback Green received at the town council meeting, and then to help present those improved drawings at the public input session in March.
The SUN will report when and where that meeting will occur as soon as the date is set.