By Ed Fincher
In last week’s SUN article about the public input meeting concerning the proposed community recreation center, audience member Cynda Green was misquoted.
It was reported that Green said, “We have been in a recession and let me tell you, Pagosa Springs does not need this.”
What she said was, “So we have been to the Wheat Ridge rec center, and let me tell you, Pagosa Springs is not Wheat Ridge.”
The proposed Pagosa Springs community recreation center has sparked quite a bit of interest amongst the local population, if the attendance at Monday night’s public input meeting is any indication, but it is still difficult to tell how many people are in favor of the idea and how many are opposed.
All of the seats were full and people were standing along the walls of the south conference room in the Ross Aragon Community Center when town council member Kathie Lattin introduced Tom Carosello, the director of the town’s parks and recreation department.
However, Lattin, in an attempt to encourage an open and honest dialog, may have made a mistake by saying, “At the end of the presentation we are going to take questions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask them in the meantime. Just raise your hand and we will acknowledge you.”
This may have inadvertently made a few audience members feel like they had permission to continuously interrupt the proceedings.
Carosello began by describing how the idea of a rec center came about as a result of a community survey in 2006. He then showed a slideshow of the architectural plan and designs for the facility from 2008.
When Carosello mentioned the size of the building, 44,674 square feet, an unidentified audience member asked him to compare it to the size of a football field and, when Carosello described the proposed location of the facility, south of Yamaguchi Park between the high school and the river, the audience member interrupted with questions about the sewer lagoons located in the area.
“Those are going to be decommissioned if things go as planned,” Carosello explained, referring to a proposed pipeline that will pump the town’s wastewater to the Vista Treatment Plant operated by the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District.
Carosello continued his presentation by showing slides with an artist’s rendering of the exterior of the building, but before he could move on he was interrupted again by the same man, who asked how long the building would be. While Carosello patiently reiterated that the size of the building would be just over 44,000 square feet, the heckler asked for the length of the front of the building, either in feet, yards, meters or miles.
“I don’t have the exact measurements,” Carosello conceded, “but I can look it up for you.”
Carosello went on to highlight the features of the building — a gym, climbing wall, lap pool and leisure pool — including pictures of similar amenities from other rec centers throughout the state. In particular, Carosello pointed out that the rec center proposed for Pagosa Springs is similar to the one in Cortez, since the demographics for both communities are similar.
Throughout Carosello’s presentation, the interruptions continued to escalate in frequency and irrelevance.
When former town council member Mark Weiler took over, explaining his background and expertise in finance, including being the president of Parelli Natural Horsemanship and on the board of directors for First Southwest Bank, the interruptions continued. Weiler maintained a professional demeanor throughout his part of the presentation, choosing to ignore the interruptions.
When he finished his discussion of the financial aspect of the project, he opened it up to questions from the audience. One person asked how many people live in Archuleta County (approximately 13,000) and argued that since Montezuma County has 54,000, it isn’t fair to use the Cortez rec center as a basis for Pagosa’s.
Later research revealed the population of Montezuma County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was 25,535 in 2010, not 54,000.
The same person asked why 700 voters from the town of Pagosa Springs get to make the decision on this issue for the 13,000 residents of Archuleta County. “Why can’t it be the whole county?”
“Because the county commissioners have not earned the same respect that the town council members have,” Weiler responded. “You don’t have home rule in the county. We have home rule in the town. Home rule allows the town to do things the county cannot. The way to get to where you want to be is for the county commissioners to earn the same level of respect from the people who elected them to give them the power to have home rule.
“It’s a nuance of Colorado law, and to be perfectly honest, I would prefer to have one entity, home rule, everybody votes, but that’s not what exists. Those are the rules of the game. The laws of the state of Colorado are what they are.”
“I’m a brand new businessman in town,” one audience member said. “Essentially, the town for the last five years has been cutting budgets because things are tight, and they have done a good job. They have watched their money and I have respect for that, but what this will do is increase their income by fifty percent. It’s not one cent more for a cup of coffee; it’s fifty percent.
“It seems like if they are going to get fifty percent more money, going from a two-cent tax to a three-cent tax, there’s a lot they could do with a fifty percent sales tax increase, but we’re putting it all into a nineteen million dollar Taj Mahal. As a business person, I see a lot of people who don’t want to pay an eight-cent sales tax on everything they buy. People don’t appreciate the seven percent they are paying now.”
Referring back to Weiler’s earlier comment about the county, Lattin explained she had not heard any feedback from the county commissioners, so Christine Funk from the Friends of Reservoir Hill, who would later speak about why the community needs a rec center, asked county commissioner Michael Whiting, who was the only member of that board present in the audience, to comment.
However, before Whiting could respond, another audience member, Cynda Green, spoke up. “We have been in a recession and let me tell you, Pagosa Springs does not need this. To me, to be quite honest, it is unethical for you to just do whatever you can to convince nine hundred voters that the entire county has to pay an extra one percent sales tax for this thing. It’s just a monstrosity. It’s a cruise ship. Let’s call it the SS Pagosa Springs Rec Center. Those photos you’ve shown make it look like a cruise ship.”
It was at this point the mood of the room shifted when a person in the back of the audience interrupted Green to ask, “Do you have kids?”
Many audience members were young couples, and several had brought their children to the meeting with them. One young mother said, “Thank you,” to the gentleman who interrupted Green, and many began to applaud.
Weiler responded directly to Green, “I am a fact-based decision-maker, and when I look at this project, I look at a survey that was done, not only with town residents, but with the county as well as part-time residents. I have a response of over twenty percent, unheard of in a direct-mail survey. The number one or number two request from all of those people was a rec center. This community has suffered for a long time from a lack of things for our children to do.”
Several audience members then began to speak up in favor of the project, pointing to successful rec centers in towns such as Moab or Winter Park, which are similar to Pagosa both in terms of the size of the community and the availability of outdoor recreational opportunities.
Funk was the next presenter, outlining the many benefits of the rec center for local citizens. Last year, she helped lead the effort to prevent town council from installing several mechanized recreational amenities on Reservoir Hill. The town’s proposal was developed by the Town Tourism Committee and included a chairlift, a treetop zip-line course and an alpine coaster.
At that time, Funk and her fellow members of the Friends of Reservoir Hill group complained that the Reservoir Hill project came from the TTC, not the parks and rec commission. The group asserted the plan would benefit tourists while destroying the park for locals and was being forced on the citizens by town council, coming from the top down instead of being a grass-roots movement by the people.
At Monday’s meeting, however, Funk gave a detailed argument as to why the rec center proposal would be beneficial for the people of the community.
When she was finished, local business owner Greg Giles stood up and described how expensive it was to take his family all the way to Durango to use that community’s rec center. One of his young children was with him, and politely raised his hand to ask a question. “How deep is the pool going to be?”
Several audience members clapped, and Carosello laughed as he described the leisure pool for the young person. Everyone appreciated the deeper implications of the child’s question: kids don’t care about the political bickering of adults, they just want a safe place to play.
After the meeting, when asked if she was worried about how the proposed rec center might affect her business, The Springs Resort general manager Carla Shaw explained that she might lose a few customers, but then said, “I am a parent and a community person first, and a business person second.”