Gunnison says growth is the goal and the challenge in general planning meeting
By Robert Stevens
GUNNISON—To kick off a discussion on creating a new general plan, BYU’s student-staffed Urban Planning Group told Gunnison City leaders and residents a tale of two cities last week.
Not the book, mind you, but the group’s experiences in helping two other Utah rural towns craft its general plan.
Accompanied by Dr. Michael Clay, professor of urban planning at BYU, the student planners told the city council the first step is to prepare a vision statement at a meeting Wednesday, Aug. 26.
“A vision statement is a clear and simple statement that declares what the city intends to become,” said Jake Harding, BYU student and project manager for the Gunnison plan.
Harding challenged the city leadership to prioritize Gunnison’s values and ambitions.
“What is it to you that makes Gunnison great?” Harding asked. “All the goals that we create with you will be pointing back to your vision statement.”
Harding showed examples of the goals adopted by Manti City and the town of Eureka in Utah County. The two municipalities had very different visions and goals.
For example, in the area of land use, Manti and Eureka had some shared values, but Manti was focused more on growth, while Eureka’s land use goals were focused on maintaining what the town had.
The Manti City vision statement is: “Be a beautiful, clean, healthy, safe, friendly small town; preserve, restore and honor the community’s heritage in all actions taken; and foster a community that is progressive, organized and attractive to new businesses.
Several of the Gunnison City leadership commented that Manti’s vision statement paralleled the Gunnison City motto, “Progress with purpose.”
Essentially, Harding said, Manti’s priorities were maintaining a small town feel, while boosting economic development without ruining the historic nature of the town.
Eureka’s plan focused on paying homage to the town’s heritage as an historic mining community.
“Manti was about growing, Eureka was about not losing any more (population),” Harding said.
Harding and other BYU Urban Planning Group members encouraged the mayor and council to consider their priorities.
Growth, both economic and residential, and how to encourage it, was the dominating goal raised by Mayor Lori Nay and the council members.
Harding told the council that, according to the group’s research, for a long time, Gunnison City had flatlined in population—until the prison came.
Now, based on their projections, Harding says the growth expectancy for the city over the next 20 years is approximately 25 percent. In 2040, the BYU group expects population to reach nearly 2,500 people.
The general plan needs to address potential growth before it becomes a problem, Harding said.
“If half of the 200 families that work here and live elsewhere decided to move here, I don’t think the infrastructure could handle it,” Councilman Andy Hill said. “If we threw a hundred more homes in the mix, how do we handle that?”
Councilman Robert Anderson added, “Our culinary water is sufficient for our needs right now, but if you add more people, it won’t be.”
Jeff Coons, assistant project manager in the BYU group, said, “It’s possible that other things like the prison could come to the area and boost growth beyond expectations, but that could be regulated, if desired.”
Councilmember Michelle Smith and Nay both said they felt it was important to draw both tourists and move-ins to the city.
Nay said the area needs more nice rentals, but the area doesn’t offer enough incentive for people who have land available to develop homes or rental housing on it.
Councilman Blane Jensen said the reason lots don’t get developed is because fees for hookups make it unprofitable. He added that there are only so many places that can be developed, because Gunnison is mostly landlocked, and much of the surrounding area is state trust land.
Hill posed the question, “Do we as a city want to foster partnerships with the people who have land to encourage development? Subsidies? How can we make it worthwhile to develop the land?”
Harding said it was possible that if the city incentivized growth, demand for homes could increase enough to make hookup and other fees bearable.
“These people cannot afford it with wages they make,” Jensen said. “You can demand prices go up, but if people still can’t afford payments, what do you do?”
Coons said emphasizing the development of duplexes, triplexes and other multi-family housing units might offer greater incentive for people to develop their available property.
Nay mentioned a proposal to use the old Gunnison City Elementary as a site for a subdivision of multi-dwelling units.
Well,” Anderson said, “If people want to be inspired to live here, they need something to set a little fire in them.”
Councilman Blake Donaldson said he thought the city’s Main Street needed to improve to attract more businesses, and Nay agreed, saying they should lean on the historic nature of Gunnison Main Street in the process.
Hill mentioned improving recreation in the area to attract people. This started a discussion about how Gunnison could take advantage of people visiting 12 Mile Canyon or possibly even develop a trail system within the city that linked up with the canyon, or circles the city.
“We need to help and promote those who are here and that have gone through the struggle,” said Matt Reber, director of public works. “Why don’t we take care of who is here and focus on them a little bit. They’re the ones who have got us to where they are at. Yet we’re willing to go out and waive fees for someone new to come in. You got to take care of the ones who have got us to this point.”
Around that time, Harding broke in and said, “We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback, and we’ll start working on (ideas) and come back with some suggestions. Once goals and mission statement are firm with the mayor, council, and planning and zoning, we will start involving the public in things.”
He added the city will try to complete plan discussions in eight meetings. The council set a tentative date to meet again about the general plan on Tuesday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m.