City Council ditches trails plan

After the city planning commission refused to recommend approval, the Grand Junction City Council decided not to take an updated master plan for trails in the Grand Valley to 
a public hearing next month.

Some people see them simply as lines on a map, ideas for potential trails, but definitely not set in stone.

Others take grave exception to the configuration of potential trails along the Grand Valley’s canals, ditches and drainages.

Whatever your philosophy, a majority of Grand Junction city councilors have opted not to accept a recently revamped update to the Grand Valley Trails Master Plan, primarily because the document illustrates trails along canals. The plan includes a road map for all manner of trails, an additional 621 miles of trails that crisscross the valley, including bike lanes, sidewalks and dirt paths. Yet it is potential routes along canals that have generated the most controversy and attention.

Councilors had been expected to take the issue of whether the city should accept the plan to a public hearing next month, but those plans changed after the Grand Junction Planning Commission unanimously recommended at an Aug. 13 meeting that councilors not adopt it. Commissioners said they didn’t think the plan met a criteria to provide community benefit.

Instead, a majority of councilors decided at a workshop last week not to adopt the master plan, mostly because it contained plans for trails along canals. Also, contended Mayor Sam Susuras, it is fruitless to include canal trails in planning documents because the valley’s irrigation companies have insisted they will never consent to allowing the public access.

Public access can only occur if canal and irrigation companies agree to it, City Attorney John Shaver said.

“We came to try to renegotiate,” Susuras said to leaders of the area’s irrigation companies who attended the meeting. “I can see that’s hopeless.”

Councilors Phyllis Norris and Susuras said at the meeting they would approve of the master plan if canal trails were removed. Councilor Marty Chazen said he wasn’t inclined to vote to adopt a plan that contained any plans for future trails over private property. Councilors Jim Doody, Bennett Boeschenstein and Duncan McArthur said they supported the master plan as is, with the inclusion of canal trails.

Irrigation companies have long opposed people trespassing on the canal banks because of safety issues, liability concerns and public interference with their equipment and operations.

Also, just having a map that distinguishes areas for canal trails increases public perception that they should be allowed to recreate there, said Fred Aldrich, an attorney who represents the Grand Valley’s six irrigation companies.

“The public thinks they have a right to be there. They think it’s a matter of time until there’s a change of policy,” Aldrich said to councilors. “This is not something we’re going to negotiate.”

Trails along canals already are written into the current urban trails master plan, which was adopted in 2001.

Grand Junction’s Urban Trails Committee worked for more than two years to update the planning document. Work has included mapping areas for trails, public meetings and collecting input.

Dozens of written comments support more trails and routes for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as support for opening up the canal trails.

“If people can’t move around their neighborhoods safely, they won’t walk. They won’t bike,” Urban Trails Committee member Elizabeth Collins told councilors. “Canal trails is a small part of the plan, but it’s something people want to see.”

The master plan supports routes for children to get to schools. It extends the urban trail system throughout the Grand Valley, instead of limiting it to the Grand Junction area.

In light of the council’s decision, Urban Trails Committee members will regroup and consider removing the canal trails from the map, according to member Dave Grossman.

Grossman said he found it “kind of ironic” that councilors had no problem adopting a North Avenue master plan, during the same meeting, that included plans for changes across private property. Likewise, plans for the Colorado Riverfront Trail have always included routes that cross private property, and the process to improve that route has endured for more than two decades. Grossman said adoption of the Grand Valley Urban Trails Master Plan does not mean private property rights will be taken. The creation of trails is a lengthy process and landowners are treated fairly, he said.

“If they are morally opposed to putting lines on maps that go across public property, they’re going to have a hard time doing anything (in this community),” Grossman said of councilors.

He said the Urban Trails Committee for years has invited irrigation companies to meetings, but they have declined to get involved.

“They told us on no uncertain terms — they don’t want to be involved,” Grossman said. “It’s just going to take a few more years. Every community except for ours has canal bank trails. It is going to take a while.” 

Delaying the plan’s adoption won’t affect city operations much because not much new development is occurring, said Kathy Portner, who works with the city’s Economic Development and Sustainability Division.

New roads already are built to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians with bike lanes and sidewalks, Portner said.

However, when councilors decided not to adopt the plan outside of a public hearing, they missed out on an important element of the process.

Portner noted that the number of supporters for the master plan were about equal to the number of detractors who arrived for the hearing before the Planning Commission. 

“A lot of people put a lot of time into it,” Portner said of the master plan. “I think that it’s important for elected bodies to be hearing from citizens. We don’t see the groundswell of supporters, and they’re out there.”


Commenting is not available in this channel entry.
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Why would the Council hold a public hearing?  It has already demonstrated that it’s not interested in what the public thinks.

Unfortunately there appears to be a huge misunderstanding about how city planning works, and even more confusion about how trails work in cities. I’m very discouraged to see the dialogue, which is more about passion than about facts. I’m hoping the discussion gets more civilized as the new councilors settle into their jobs.

The update to the Grand Valley Trails Master Plan included almost every inch of irrigation canal access road in the valley. I say almost only because they might have missed a section somewhere. This suggests that the intent is to eventually put trails there whenever possible. I noticed that in my neighborhood an existing but neglected trail is not even included, but the canal bank is. The Urban Trails Committee’s defense that the plan was only lines on a map does not excuse the implicit lack of respect for property rights. The plan is clearly not ready for public review.
The committee would be very likely to get approval for some sections of trail on the canal right-of-ways if they would approach the canal companies and land owners with specific requests. Something along the lines of: “We need to put a trail on this ditch bank, from here to there, because there is no other way to link these other sections. We can do this and that to address your concerns about access, liability and safety. Can you help us out with this?”.  The committee has a lot of work to do and I would like to help if I can.
Virgil Fenn

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