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In split vote, Durango City Council approves Downtown’s Next Step ‘pilot’ program

Temporary installation will help inform decision-making, some councilors say
A pilot installation of Durango’s Downtown’s Next Step will be set up later this spring or early summer in the 600 and 700 blocks of Main Avenue. The temporary installments will include paint, delineators and planters to give residents an idea of what the proposed project would be like. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

In coming weeks, residents will be able to see firsthand how curb extensions and widened sidewalks proposed for downtown Durango will look and function.

Durango City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve temporary “pilot” installations demonstrating the concepts of Downtown’s Next Step, a controversial project proposed to make downtown Main Avenue safer and more accessible for pedestrians.

Some businesses fret the construction that would come with the project, saying it would make their spaces hard or impossible to access. And some residents are worried the project would take away from the historic character of downtown.

The installations are planned for the 600 and 700 blocks of Main Avenue. Once installed, they will remain in place through the end of October, said Sarah Hill, Durango transportation director.

Durango Multimodal Manager Devin King said the materials to be used for the temporary installations, such as paint, delineators and planters, have yet to be purchased. He hopes to have more details about when they will be put into place next week.

City councilors who voted in favor of the pilot program said it will allow residents and business owners to get a feel for some of the proposed changes.

Councilors Olivier Bosmans and Gilda Yazzie objected to the pilot project.

Bosmans said many residents and business owners remain opposed to the reimagining of the downtown corridor as encapsulated in the Downtown’s Next Step project.

Yazzie said she worries about losing downtown’s historic character, and she hasn’t heard much in the plan about how history will be preserved.

Mayor Jessika Buell and Councilors Dave Woodruff and Melissa Youssef defended the pilot project.

A $171,040 Revitalizing Main Street Grant awarded to the city by the Colorado Department of Transportation will cover for most of the cost for the pilot project, in addition to a 20% matching contribution from the city at $42,760.

“What I’m concerned about is the fact that you’re going to put up a pretend Next Steps just so people can see that,” Yazzie said. “Because right now, downtown’s pretty destroyed with the bulb-outs or the (restaurant bump-outs) into the street, again, impacting parking. It just looks awful.”

Woodruff said bump-outs were critical and successful for restaurants and businesses during the pandemic.

“I would counter that downtown is not destroyed,” Woodruff said. “I appreciate the vibrancy and décor that the bump-outs give downtown. They were a critical lifeline in the pandemic.”

The pilot installations will not harm downtown’s historic charm or character and will allow residents and tourists to “try before we buy,” he said.

In another statement, Yazzie said “some of us who do have a historic view of Durango, who have been here a long time, appreciate the quaintness and the old-time feel of downtown Durango”

She added: “These foo-foo designs (of Next Step), it destroys the atmosphere” of downtown.

She said she is worried the city is pursuing the project and spending money on it that could be spent elsewhere.

Bosmans said it is a “pity” the city is pushing forward with the project despite objections from business owners.

He said the city already has a pilot program with its bump-outs, which extend past the sidewalk and occupy parking spaces. He asked for an estimate of how much it would cost to build Downtown’s Next Step.

Hill said she “won’t dare” hazard a guess on final costs until the city receives estimates from engineers designing the project.

If enacted, Downtown’s Next Step would remove 40 to 50 parking spaces along Main Avenue in downtown, about equivalent to the number of parking spaces taken up by bump-outs when the city first introduced the program during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a city staff presentation in September.

Youssef said the pilot project is an important step in the Downtown’s Next Step project.

Turning radii for larger vehicles and emergency vehicles must be tested for feasibility and the pilots will give residents a taste of the changes potentially to come through Downtown’s Next Step, she said.

“We always said that we would do this as a step in this process to ensure that whatever comes forward has been well vetted by our own residents within our community,” she said. “We have spent money on this program thus far. And I think that this is a vitally important step if we want to continue to see about the viability of these turning radiuses.”

Buell said the controversy around Downtown’s Next Step is all the more reason to implement the pilot installations so residents can see the concepts in action and provide feedback on what they like and don’t like, for example, regarding Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility, fixing up infrastructure beneath Main Avenue and widening sidewalks.

“What parts do we support? And then maybe what parts can we tweak to find that middle ground with businesses that maybe don’t support it?” she said. “I think that’s where we find success. It’s not always my way or your way, it’s usually in the middle where we’re going to find the most success.”

In response to Bosmans’ comment about the city pushing forward with the project despite public outcry, Buell said City Council has consistently supported the project, although a minority of council members have not always been in favor of it.

Hill said the city is actively collecting feedback from the community in a survey that is live online. The survey is available at the Engage Durango page for Downtown’s Next Step at https://bit.ly/3Kdt3wt.


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