Dueling Glenwood campaigns take off | News

R2 Partners, the real estate development firm that plans on building hundreds of housing units in West Glenwood, has no plans of bowing out — period.

Unless, of course, Glenwood Springs voters decide to pull the plug on its entire 480 Donegan project at the ballot box this May.

“We have a lot of support for this project. Specifically, we have the support for housing, which is one of the greatest needs we have in Glenwood Springs,” Kathleen Wanatowicz, a spokesperson for R2 Partners, said Friday. “This is the kind of housing that will house the public safety professionals that work in the area. It’ll house teachers that work in the area.”

In a 4-3 vote last October, the Glenwood Springs City Council approved annexing nearly 16 acres of pasture land from unincorporated Garfield County (West Glenwood) into the city limits to accommodate the controversial 480 Donegan project.

The 300-unit development, if it ultimately goes in, will consist of market-rate apartments, townhomes and live-work units as well as 60 “affordable units” with price restrictions based upon area median income.

Opponents of the residential project have called it far too dense for West Glenwood’s allegedly brittle infrastructure, which has already experienced bumper-to-bumper traffic during previous emergency evacuation situations like an encroaching wildfire.

Some residents recalled cars driving across the field — where 480 Donegan would go in — trying to evacuate.

Critics of the project have also questioned R2 Partners’ estimation that “approximately 700 people” would live in the residential development, believing the number to be higher.

“We’re meeting with small organizations and groups of people who want to learn more about the project. We have lots of small group meetings set up [this] week,” Wanatowicz said. “The neighborhood meetings, those will be in March, and those are going to be more focused on gathering people who live in a certain geographical area together to learn more about the project.”

In addition to meeting with local organizations and residents, R2 Partners also recently launched a project website 480donegan.com.

The group Glenwood Springs Citizens for Sensible Development, which collected more than 900 signatures from residents opposed to R2 Partners’ project, also recently created its own website, www.gscsd.org.

When the city of Glenwood Springs held a special election in 2020 involving the sale of its municipal operations center, fewer than 1,500 residents voted.

Glenwood Springs City Councilor Tony Hershey, who did not support R2’s annexation request, thought city voters would stop the development from coming to fruition and understood the difficulty of securing votes, especially during an off-year election.

Hershey, who received approximately 1,000 votes when he was elected as an at-large city councilor in April 2019, believed voters would overturn council’s decision to annex the land for redevelopment.

Afterall, Glenwood Springs Citizens for Sensible Development group already seemed to have hundreds of votes in the bag.

“The cake is baked … I don’t see [R2 Partners] changing a lot of minds, absent a major change in the project,” Hershey said. “People are motivated, and they are against it.”

There was a sense of optimism from Glenwood Springs Citizens for Sensible Development that residents who signed the group’s referendum petition would also vote to overturn the annexation this spring.

“I don’t think we’re taking anything for granted,” Laurie Raymond, a spokesperson for Glenwood Springs Citizens for Sensible Development, said Friday. “What we really want people to do is look at both websites and apply their best judgment. I mean, we have some pretty strong … I call it ‘propaganda’ from R2 about all the … potential benefits, and then we have some pretty strong criticisms of those as not being realistic — or even being misinformation.”

The 480 Donegan project website says that if voters overturn the council-approved annexation, city residents would have “very little say over how the parcel is developed since it has already been approved for a commercial park,” but Raymond pushed back at the notion that by overturning the annexation residents would be priming the pasture land for future development that might not offer any housing at all.

If the annexation moves forward, R2 Partners has also agreed to put $100,000 toward a fire evacuation emergency plan, provide an additional evacuation route to Highways 6 & 24 and donate land for a new fire station.

However, Raymond believed major infrastructure improvements were needed well before any new development moved into the area and said that Glenwood Springs Citizens for Sensible Development would continue to knock on doors as well as speak to various local organizations to promote that message.

Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes, who was one of four council members to support the 480 Donegan project, questioned what the citizen group’s vision for the private property was if 300 housing units was not it.

“Legally, what happens if this gets turned down? The underlying zoning of warehouse distribution and semi trucks — that’s what happens. That’s the contrast,” Godes said. “People need to understand what they’re voting for.”

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