Then we were one: A combined City and County of Durango

Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018 11:46 PM
Courtesy of Dan Nicholl and DHM Design

An underpass could connect the north end of Main Avenue to the Animas River Trail near 12th Street and improve safety for pedestrians.

It was in 2030 that rural La Plata County residents said they wanted to participate in Durango’s increasingly appealing lifestyle and strong economy, which they had felt isolated from and even sometimes abused by.

City voters had resisted, but bicycles, water, housing and taxes had led to a vote to combine city and county governments into the City and County of Durango. “La Plata” became a tagline, which was painful for historians.

Durango had chosen to fund mountain bike paths and inner-city bike lanes which did nothing to help rural residents drive in and out of town for work and shopping, where their spending built sales tax revenues that seemed to fund even more benefits for bicyclists. Bike to Work Day disappeared; with the pedestrian underpass under Camino del Rio at 12th Street connecting the Animas River Trail, bikes easily outnumbered autos downtown five days a week.

There was only a single parking lot, near Mercy, for long-wheelbase pickups, a mainstay of rural living, with an hourly shuttle into town. Downtown street striping was based on the width and length of an average Subaru, a tight fit even for SUVs.

When it came to water, rural residents remembered that in the summer of 2018, a dry year which would be repeated, the city had refused to accept new water dock accounts from homeowners who suddenly saw their wells go dry. Providing that domestic water was a county or water-district problem, not the city’s, the city manager had said.

While city water could not have possibly reached very far beyond the city limits, the sight of lush lawns grated on water-short rural dwellers.

Housing had continued to be in short supply and even though land, infrastructure and building material costs were the reasons, the city’s planning regulations and procedures were blamed. Nevermind that most Durangoans, and all visitors, thought that Durango’s development looked pretty good.

And sales taxes, to pay for the ever-more diverse lifestyle that Durangoans wanted, continued to climb. A million dollars was spent on the paragliding park, the landing area for flights from Smelter Mountain, which had been recognized as one of the top 10 in the U.S.

A portion of the Dog Park was lost, but each March, there was a paragliding festival with international competitors and many spectators.

Rural voters had turned out heavily for the November vote to create a specially-tailored home-rule government for what was then 90,000 people. Exit polling showed the cost savings of a single administration and law enforcement division had been part of the appeal, but most of all there was the desire to trim the excesses and add to the benefits of county living. It was symbolic, but the new five-member commission’s first action was to stripe every other block on Second Avenue to accommodate pickup trucks.

More troublesome, but eventually successful, was the creation of a countywide land-use plan. Rural residents narrowly agreed to give up Zircons and to accept mandated roof colors in exchange for access to water dock water. There continued to be two voters living in rural environments for every one in the city.

With expectations high, the City and County of Durango moved forward on multiple progressive fronts. Then, in 2031, CCD discovered this was not the end ...