The 14 lots that currently sit empty in Carbondale’s town center will look completely different in a few years’ time — that is, if the town can quickly accomplish its goal of developing a mixed-use commercial and residential core in its place.
The land was anonymously donated to the town in December and stretches north-to-south from Colorado Avenue to the alley behind the Dinkle building, and east-to-west from Sixth Street to Fourth Street. Legally, it’s up to the town’s board of trustees to decide what to do with the land, and the town’s comprehensive plan allows for up to a three-story, mixed-use building in the area.
The town is seeking community input about what the future of the lots should be.
“We know that housing is going to be the main focus,” said Carbondale Mayor Ben Bohmfalk. “Everybody knows that what we need most is housing — and certain types of housing for people who can’t get a foothold in the local market. What we’re going to do with this public process is hear from people who this housing [should] really serve.”
On June 3 at the town’s First Friday celebration, the town will hold a public information session and “vision party” with locals about the vision for the space. Town Manager Lauren Gister said that the event will feel more like a block party than a public hearing, which she hopes will engage some more members of the community.
“We want it to be fun — informative, but also an opportunity to come and have fun and have some ice cream and talk about a vision for the future of this property,” she said. “It’s their opportunity, first of all, to actually stand on the property and look around and see this is what we’re talking about.”
The town’s current vision consists of a two- to three-story building with commercial or community-oriented activity on the lower level and residential units upstairs. Bohmfalk said he hopes to hear from people who have ideas about whether the commercial space should be used for child care, new town office space, studios for artists or other such things.
That said, there are certain things that do not have a shot at the vacant land — such as an improved town pool or a new public park. The town has other plans and opportunities for those things, and Bohmfalk said that while he doesn’t expect everyone to agree on the vision, the ultimate plan does indeed involve housing.
“That is the best place to put development,” he said. “The town has put forward a vision for the last 20 years that the commercial core should be developed as mixed-use, and that’s what makes Main Street thrive. You want to be on Main Street because there’s storefronts, you don’t want to be there when there’s a big, vacant lot.”
For Thunder River Theatre Company, which is located adjacent to the land in question, more activity would be an appreciated improvement. Occasionally, the area does draw a crowd — during the 5 Point Film Festival last month, for example, the lot bustled with van life enthusiasts and beer garden patrons — but there’s opportunity for much more, as TRTC Executive Director Sean Jeffries pointed out.
“Those four to five days a year of activation should not stop us from putting in housing for 50 some people,” he said. “Not to mention the restaurants and retail space that could impact untold numbers. So we shouldn’t be scared about it.”
As the theater company hopes to grow and serve as a community gathering space, Jeffries said those extra 1.4 acres could support those efforts, but for as long as they have gone unused, the whole area has suffered. That’s why, he added, he’s hopeful about the town’s vision for a community hub.
“I could honestly not be more excited, because this theater wants to be in the center of a vibrant spot. It doesn’t want to be in the center of a dirt lot,” he said. “Bring on the artist live-work spaces, bring on the restaurants and bar scenes, bring on all of that stuff.”
The downtown core also is a perfect location for an affordable housing project because it’s so convenient for people who aren’t looking for a car-focused lifestyle, Carbondale-based planning consultant Bob Schultz said. Schultz provided research and analysis that helped the town reach its vision.
“It’s a really convenient location for affordable housing if people are looking to simplify their expenses by only having one car and walking or biking around and taking the [Carbondale Circulator bus] to the park-and-ride,” he said. “It would be really great to see some affordable housing and commercial down here that might not fit the normal Main Street definition of ‘commercial.’”
Gister agreed that the nearby Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus stop — located at the corner of the property — will have a big impact on those who may eventually be living there.
“That’s a big deal, I think,” she said. “It’s really going to color what might go there and who’s going to want to live on the property or visit the property or what have you.”
Jeffries said he’s excited to attend the vision party and has been encouraging his friends to show up as well. TRTC also will be opening its production of “Eurydice” on June 2 and a second showing on June 3 will begin at 7:30 p.m., right as the vision party wraps up. Tickets are available now at thunderrivertheatre.com.
While the vision party will be primarily focused on Carbondale residents, Bohmfalk said that anyone is welcome to share ideas, adding that he views the entire Roaring Fork Valley as a connected community.
The town will hold two separate events later on — one will be in Spanish in an effort to gain insight from Latino community members, and the other will be more of a traditional town hall meeting at a board of trustees work session. Gister said the town is making an effort to provide multiple opportunities for people to comment.
Bohmfalk and the entire board of trustees will attend the vision party to speak directly with community members. The June 3 event will start at 5 p.m. on the vacant lots.