BAYFIELD – The Bayfield business community is at a crossroads: The town is ripe for more business development, but residents also want to maintain the economic viability and community charm that attracted them to the town to begin with.
About 30 Bayfield business owners debated the best first steps for growth, and even the idea of growing at all, during a community meeting this week.
La Plata County is expected to grow, and in preparation, town officials have made progress on the “low-hanging fruit” outlined in the 2015 Community Assessment, said Bayfield Town Manager Chris LaMay. During the open discussion of the town’s economic future, business owners, town officials and community members voiced concerns and, at times, conflicting priorities for the town’s future.
While many shared concerns about losing Bayfield’s “sleepy” appeal or the draw of spacious low-density housing, community members also acknowledged that it is financially beneficial for the town to attract new people and businesses.
“We want our town to be vibrant and active to where those people are wanting to stay and be here,” said Greg Allen, co-founder of Bottom Shelf Brewery.
La Plata County’s population is forecast to grow from about 53,000 to 91,000 between 2010 and 2040, a 71% increase, according to the 2017 La Plata County Comprehensive Plan. However, harnessing that incoming growth is a classic Catch-22: Bayfield will have to increase business activity to attract newcomers, but it will need newcomers to bring more businesses.
Community members would also need to prioritize projects, LaMay said, like parking, business incentives and Americans with Disabilities Act standards, among others. One priority for several business leaders was to decide how to maintain the town’s identity along with growth.
“How do we see ourselves growing? I think we need to start with that,” said Bruce Stultz, an ADA coordinator.
The town is also competing with other developing areas to attract large chain stores that bring jobs. However, those stores often won’t come to communities unless they meet population minimums, said Mayor Matt Salka.
City Market is considering Three Springs, a growing area almost 8 miles from downtown Durango and 14 miles from Bayfield, said Bruce Evans, fire chief at Upper Pine River Fire Protection District.
“If Target and City Market end up in Three Springs, they’ll never end up in Bayfield,” Evans said. “Whatever it is we’ve got to do to get rooftops here and keep it a growth sector, that’s got to be first.”
Town officials identified their own first steps. Salka said the town had an opportunity to change small things, like advertising business incentives, to bring in new business. For LaMay, the next step is organizing a community-led group to prioritize the development process, and the meeting showed that people were willing to step in, he said.
Duane Greer, who operates two vacation rentals in town, is one of those people.
“If we’re going to benefit from getting something out of Mill Street, then we ought to be putting something in,” Greer said, adding that for the community-led group, “I’m going to be involved in it if I have to start it myself.”