The Battle Over South Ark: Pickle Ball or People?
In the heart of Salida, Colorado, a fierce debate is raging over a 100-acre parcel of land known as the "South Ark Neighborhood." On one side, there are those who want to see the land developed for recreation - pickle ball courts, an ice rink, a rec center, and even bird feeders. On the other side are the dog walkers and nature enthusiasts who want to keep the land as it is, untouched and pristine. And then there are those who are calling for affordable housing to be built on the land - something desperately needed in this community.
Bolstering the effort for affordable housing is BETCH, a grassroots organization working to address the affordable housing crisis in Salida. In a recent focus group hosted by the city and Studio Seed consultant group, 30 members of the workforce showed up to advocate for affordable housing. The focus group highlighted the struggles of those experiencing living with too many roommates, cramped and poorly maintained quarters, and paying exorbitant rent prices. Many attendees expressed a desire for adequate shelter that allows for pets and storage. The sentiment was summed up by Bri, who said, "If we could afford housing, perhaps we could consider reproducing."
Despite these urgent pleas, there are those in the community who seem to be ignoring the problem at hand. They're more concerned with having a place to walk their dogs than with whether or not their neighbors have shelter. It's a tone-deaf response that's leaving many feeling frustrated and hopeless.
The city of Salida in Colorado held an Open House at the Salida SteamPlant on January 31 to gather public input on potential development plans for the “South Ark Neighborhood”. While many comments went into detail on desires to see more housing and recreation opportunities, others simply scrawled “LEAVE IT ALONE” on the flip charts calling for suggestions on “Other Uses”. However, a crowd of around 300 to 400 people showed up to provide feedback, showing a clear interest in the development of the area.
Salida's Community Development Director, Bill Almquist, stressed that the Open House was the first of several events planned for public input into the city’s master plan process for the South Ark Neighborhood. A process that he said would take about nine months before being presented to the Planning Commission and the City Council.
The inclusion of the workforce in decision-making is a significant step forward for the city and a major victory for BETCH. As the city grapples with the housing crisis, it is becoming increasingly clear that solutions cannot be achieved without the perspective of those who are experiencing the problem firsthand. By listening to the workforce, Salida is showing a willingness to tackle the affordable housing crisis head-on and to work towards solutions that will benefit the entire community. With continued collaboration and focus on the issue, there is hope that the city can make real progress towards a more equitable future.