Green Mountain Falls Trustees Heavily Endorse Tourism/Art Attraction

Stage Set for James Turrell Skyspace Installation This Summer

Rick Langenberg

The sleepy, lazy days of Green Mountain Falls in the offseason may be screeching to a halt, with the pending arrival of a major multimillion-dollar tourism/art venture.

In fact, the Ute Pass town could now get on the  international map as key year-round art destination.

With only a few resident objections, the Green Mountain  Falls Board of Trustees last week signaled a sold green light for the first major annexation bid, proposed in years, consisting of the Red Devil Mountain area and the former Joyland Church parcels. This is comprised of 30-plus acres and represents a significant backdrop area, just north of the Gazebo.

The process now moves to the zoning stage on Jan. 19

“This is the first part of many parts,” said Trustee Chris Quinn.  Similar to most trustees, he sees this as a big boon for the town. “We have one chance to do this right,” added Mayor Jane Newberry.

This sets the preliminary stage for a new attraction, highlighted by a James Turrell Skyspace art installation, which would resemble an observatory-like facility offering a rare glimpse into the skyline and stars, with special lighting effects for sunrise and sunset viewing. There are 85 of these rare facilities in the world, but none in Colorado.

Plus, the project will include nature trails, a key viewing area, restrooms and horse grazing section.

It is proposed by the  Historic Green  Mountain Falls Foundation and by groups associated with art entrepreneur Chris Keesee.  The Green Box Arts group wants to dedicate the new installation at their 2021 festival, planned between June 21-Jaly 11, 2021

Jesse Stroope, the key representative for the Historic Green Mountain Falls Foundation, stressed again the many benefits of the annexation and the forthcoming project for Green Mountain Falls. He cited the strong partnership that has existed between the Foundation and the town, and outlined their track record. “We have a reputation for impeccable maintenance,” said Stroope, in describing the efforts orchestrated by the Foundation and the Green Box Arts group.

In addition, he noted that the annexation would give the town more recreational amenities, offer more open space and serve as a buffer from further  development.

What Benefits Do We Get?

Long-time resident and former trustee Mac Pitrone, though, had a slew of concerns regarding the plan. “What exactly do we get?” questioned Pitrone. He believes the town is taking in a considerable amount of land that it can’t generate any property tax revenue from. Moreover, he cited concerns over the impacts for local residents and for the town folks, and requested more studies. “The town should not have to pay for the mitigation of the (traffic) study,” blasted Pitrone.

At the close of last week’s hearing, Pitrone went further and told the Foundation leader that if they really want to really help Green Mountain Falls, then invest money into the community’s main Achilles Heel, road improvements.

A few other residents also appeared a little uneasy about the development. “I have already expressed a concern about a lack of privacy,” said resident Sunde King.  “The lack of (town) maintenance, along with increased traffic, is a concern.”

However, the vast majority of residents and civic leaders who addressed the annexation at last week’s hearing were strong supporters of the tourism bid. “The town is lucky to have a project of this level,” said Planning Commissioner Lamar Mathews.

Mike Frey, co-owner of the Painted Bear gift shop, echoed similar  views, and sees the annexation and project as a way to spruce up the business community and possibly lead to more commercial growth across the highway.

“Everything I have seen from Green Box has been of the highest quality,” said resident David Douglas. “They are continuing to enhance the beauty of our town.  We will benefit in a number of ways.”

Planning Commission Chairman Todd Dixon said he witnessed first-hand the downward plight of a community that doesn’t take advantage of a potential tourism boom. He was referring to a Kansas town, where he formerly lived, which deteriorated greatly from refusing to expand its tourism base.

Even Rocco Blasi, who frequently criticizes the administration, spoke in strong support of the project. He said the addition of hikers and artists would only add to the charm of GMF. Blasi and other annexation supporters also noted that the project really represented the extension of ideas mulled in the GMF’s recent comprehensive plan.

The trustees appeared supportive of the annexation, but initially wore their cautionary hats and opted to delay a final verdict until later in the meeting.

At first, a few hinted that they may want to continue the hearing.  But staff officials informed the board that other specific development details could be addressed later in the process. Also, Stroope reiterated that the management of the installation and attraction  and trails will be solely manned by the Green Box Arts group. “It is managed trailhead to trailhead by Green Box,” said Stroope.

Regardless of the potential of more visitors, Trustee Katharine Guthrie emphasized the community benefits. “Personally, I really appreciate the opportunity to gather as a community. This is something we will enjoy,” said Guthrie.

These comments appeared to turn the tide and fuel  much political support for the annexation. “I am delighted to have this in my backyard. It really belongs to us,” added Stroope, in agreeing with Guthrie. The board voted unanimously to approve the annexation petitions.

The next stage involves a rezoning of property with plans for a public land designation for Red Devil Mountain area and a business designation for the Joyland Church parcels.

Facebook Silence Explained

In other GMF news, Newberry addressed what has become a touchy issue in recent years: Addressing comments made on Facebook.

The GMF mayor defended her actions to not respond to concerns and posts relayed on the GMF Political/Community page, which often touches  on city complaints and community issues.  Due to Sunshine laws, the  mayor said she isn’t able to respond, via Facebook, as it could be construed as partaking in an illegal meeting. Instead, she encouraged residents to leave phone messages at town hall, or emails, via the city’s website. “I am not ignoring people,” said Newberry, who encouraged folks also to participate in the town’s survey.

GMF also now has an official town clerk/treasurer.  Matt Gordon, who previously worked with Brush, Colorado, has assumed the new post last week.