Government officials assess state of the valley

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Comprehensive planning and significant investments in infrastructure will pay off in promoting economic development in the Grand Valley, local government officials say.

Challenges persist, though, among them the availability of affordable housing. And imposing a heavier state regulatory burden to usurp local controls won’t help.

“That one size fits all doesn’t really fit anybody,” said Mesa County Commissioner Bobbie Daniel.

Daniel was among eight government officials who addressed a variety of issues at an annual State of the Valley presentation staged by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. The panelists also included Grand Junction Mayor Anna Stout, Grand Junction City Manager Greg Caton, Mesa County Administrator Pete Baier, Fruita Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Breman, Fruita City Manager Mike Bennett, Palisade Mayor Greg Mikolai and Palisade Town Manager Janet Hawkinson.

Asked to identify some big economic development wins, Bennett cited efforts to simplify and streamline the development process in Fruita. “We’re seeing the results of that.” They included more density downtown and the opening of the Fruita Arts Recreation Marketplace, a refurbished downtown building housing an eclectic mix of business tenants.

Mikolai cited the opening of a health care clinic in Palisade and installation of fiber that will offer high-speed internet service.

Stout said the City of Grand Junction has invested millions to promote development downtown and along North Avenue and Horizon Drive as well as support local organizations involved in economic development.

Daniel said Mesa County has invested millions more in various projects, including the clinic in Palisade as well as a campus in Clifton, community hall in De Beque and internet access in Collbran. Additional work is under way on the eventual construction of a 29 Road interchange with Interstate Highway 70.

Asked to address strategies for growth, the panelists pointed to comprehensive plans that have either been completed or soon will be. Breman said officials in Fruita constantly ask whether the master plan meets community needs. In Palisade, Mikolai said the comprehensive plan will update the land development code as well as guide efforts to accommodate tourism.

Caton said the City of Grand Junction will invest hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure in coming years to handle growth.

Impact fees help pay for some of the costs associated with growth, but panelists were asked how to balance fees with affordability for the developers that pay them.

Caton said impact fees help pay for infrastructure and other facilities needed to accommodate growth — fire stations, for example. But fees don’t cover all the costs.

Bennett also said fees help pay for the affects of development, although streamlined processes in Fruita should save developers time and money. No impact fees will be assessed on so-called accessory dwelling units constructed to provide additional housing, he said

Mikolai said no increase in impact fees are planned in Palisade. “We’re basically just trying to hold the line on that.”

Asked about the biggest barriers they foresee for the coming year, most of the panelists cited housing.

Stout said employers, especially those in the health care sector, have reported difficulty in recruiting employees because they can’t find places to live. She said the City of Grand Junction approaches the problem as a “spectrum.”

The redevelopment of a downtown location previously used for a City Market grocery story will help, she said,

Caton said the city has allocated funding for a land and building acquisition program as well as efforts by Grand Valley Catholic Outreach to provide more housing.

Breman said a multipronged approach is under way in Fruita that includes a streamlined development progress, infill projects and increased housing density.

Hawkinson said the redevelopment of a mobile home park in Palisade will provide more affordable housing. The construction of more accessory dwelling units also could help. At the same time, she said the town also is addressing the issue of housing converted to vacation rentals by owners.

What won’t help, Daniel said, are more state regulations.

Mikolai said he’s hopeful efforts will succeed in further diversifying a Palisade economy dependent on agriculture and tourism and businesses will bring more goods and services to the town.

Hawkinson said she’s eager to pursue more public and private partnerships similar to the one involved in opening the health clinic. “Palisade is open for business.”