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An aerial photo of Gunnison as it looks today. Last week, the city council adopted a new general plan to guide development over the next several years.

Gunnison City Council wraps up deliberation, passes plan

 

By Robert Stevens

 

12-13-2018

 

GUNNISON—Gunnison City has adopted a new general plan crafted with the help of students from the BYU’s Urban Planning Department.

The city council adopted the plan last Wednesday, Dec. 5.

To create the plan, the students and city leaders held discussions during multiple council meetings. There were public hearings, Planning and Zoning Committee meetings and public surveys. The meeting where the plan was adopted was the seventh since the planning group came to Gunnison.

Prior to adoption, Andrew Clyde, presentation manager for the BYU group, walked the council through highlights of the document, starting with community vision and long-term goals.

The first goal of in the community vision statement is “creating a vibrant, thriving and inviting community.” The second goal is “supporting and maintaining our historical and agricultural heritage.”

Next is “fostering organized growth by attracting new businesses, supporting existing businesses and creating recreational opportunities.” Finally, the community vision calls for “providing a high quality of life for existing and new residents.”

The next topic was land use. Results from one survey of residents showed that 90 percent of the respondents surveyed wanted to see more commercial growth in both the industrial park and on Main Street. Of the residents surveyed, 77 percent also told the BYU planning group they wanted to see more restaurants.

The survey also addressed residential needs and found that 73 percent of surveyed residents favored more single-family detached homes.

            Yet the BYU students presenting the plan pointed out that 76 out of 77 rental properties in the city were occupied, leaving no transitional housing for young families working their way up to ownership.

            Clyde said Dr. Michael Clay, the professor who supervises the planning group, had never seen that high a rate of rental occupancy. “You have a very high demand,” Clyde told the council.

            The presentation turned next to economic development, where the plan shows the need for housing in the Gunnison Valley is holding back the city economically. Census data lists the city’s major employers and the percentage of employees of each business or government entity who actually live in Gunnison.

            According data gathered for the plan, 51 percent of people who work in Gunnison live within 9 miles of the city. The development of housing, motels and other commercial development would be the key to getting the other 49 percent to live in and invest more heavily in the Gunnison City economy.

            The plan places special emphasis on commercial developments concentrated along U.S. 89 and other “gateway” roads into the city.

            Residents also showed interest in development of more recreation and trails. The community favors trail improvements, extensions to trails and better accessibility. Partnerships with organizations such as the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) could help them accomplish that, according to NPS community planner Brandon Stocksdale, who was worked with the city and the BYU planning group on planning for rivers, trails and conservation assistance.

            Next the BYU planners reviewed the public facilities section of the plan. After one of the driest years in more than a decade, it’s no surprise water played a big role. The plan calls for expanding irrigation ponds and storage tanks, as well as possibly developing additional water sources, and implementing water conservancy tactics before water shortages become a problem.

            Further upgrading of the storm drainage system was also mentioned as a way to avoid flash floods such as those that hit the Gunnison Valley in 2015.

            There was also a desire to improve telecommunication by encouraging carriers to build more cell phone towers.

            At the end of the public facilities highlights were results of a resident survey gauging community willingness to bond for public facility improvements. The clear winner in the survey was water, irrigation and wastewater systems, with 77 percent of residents surveyed in support of bonding to accomplish needed improvements.

Public road improvements were second in popularity, getting 68 percent approval. Public parks and trails, and recreational facilities such as sports fields, finished off the survey, receiving 44 percent and 51 percent approval, respectively.

            The presentation returned briefly to the topic of housing, a recurring theme during formulation of the plan. Although the land-use survey found single-family homes to be the preferred housing choice, the plan points out that duplex and other multi-family developments could be of use for young families and recent retirees.

            The plan also notes that refurbishing older, vacant homes could not only provide more housing, but beautify the community and increase property values.

            The BYU planning group also noted that the plan includes resources for accessing state and federal programs for residents who need financial assistance to obtain housing.

            According to data from the plan, about 80 percent of the homes in Gunnison qualify as moderate income housing. To keep up with the projected growth rate, the plan calls for the development of six to seven new houses a year.

            The final presentation topic was transportation. The planning group conducted a comprehensive road condition study, and the plan will include a multiple-phase citywide sidewalk system.

            The first potential phase for the sidewalk system, based on public feedback, has been identified as a stretch of road beginning at 200 East on the Sanpitch River Walk and spanning six blocks to 100 North.

            At the end of the presentation, Stocksdale, of the National Parks Service, asking if the council  had any questions about the plan.

            Several members of the council and the mayor, Lori Nay, wanted some clarity about whether the plan was meant to be followed to the letter or was only a guideline.

“A general plan is state mandated, but as a document, the idea is it should be regularly updated and revisited,” Stocksdale said. “Its major purpose is to give you those high level goals and priorities for the city as you guys are looking towards future development.”

Public and leadership input during the creation of the plan was focused on devising community goals, he said.

“The plan is meant to provide you strategies to achieve those goals,” said Stocksdale. “Obviously situations can change. Sometimes they can change quickly. You can update those goals, priorities and strategies, but the idea is saying, ‘As a community, this is the direction we want things headed.’ There is no legal requirement that you be bound by these things, but it should guide you.”

Councilman Andy Hill said he understood the general plan system as a fluid document that has to be adjusted over time. Leadership changes, population changes, but it helps to guide the way.

Nay expressed some concern that median income data in the plan seemed like it might have been contradictory to data the council had received in the past. According to Clyde, the information on household income brackets in the plan came from the 2010 census.

Stocksdale said it might be worth looking into median income data for potential amendments to the plan, but 10-year census data is typically the most accurate available.

“My recommendation would be to adopt it tonight, then review in more detail,” Stocksdale said. “Any changes could be made through amendment.”

After a brief discussion, a motion was made to adopt the general plan that night. The motion passed.

Councilman Andy Hill thanked the BYU group for the help they had given the city, and the other city leaders agreed.

“This has been a great opportunity for us,” Stocksdale said. “Gunnison has become a place that is close to us after all this.”

Nay added, “Thank you for being so involved.”