Gateway and Whitewater: Grappling with growth
Whitewater and Gateway are small communities south of the Grand Valley. Both are trying to grow and carve out their identities. On the surface, they don’t share many similarities.
Whitewater is an easy commute into the Grand Valley; Gateway is 43 miles beyond Whitewater up Unaweep Canyon. Gateway is becoming a destination for visitors from all around the world; Whitewater is becoming home to a few people who want to experience life in the country. Gateway has John Hendricks and his financial acumen to bring infrastructure to the area; Whitewater has 300 households who can’t afford to pay for the infrastructure needed for the 20,000 people the county expects in the next 20 years. However, both are struggling with the issue of growth.
Gateway Canyons Resort has changed the face of Unaweep Canyon. Although some residents may complain about rising taxes and abundant tourists, most are happy to have a consistently open gas station and a grocery store. Those who have taken jobs at the resort are happy not to be driving into Grand Junction every day for work.
“One of the things that I am proudest of is the store we built,” says John Williams, President of Western Sky Investments LLC. “It had been years since someone could buy gas, milk, dairy products or meat products.”
The resort has other reasons to take pride in its neighborliness. The Hendricks family built a modern wastewater facility for the resort in 2005; the town of Gateway was added in 2006. The facility was built so that it could be enlarged not just for the resort’s expansion, but for the eventual growth of the town, too.
“Gateway Canyons is a very well-planned resort,” says Julie Constan, an engineer with Mesa County Public Works Department. “The resort has been really good about cooperation.”
Gateway Canyons also built employee housing on-site and has plans to build even more housing for seasonal workers. Plans are in the works for a 400-acre property that could become a private golf course, complete with luxurious golf course homes. The resort also has a private water system that they will expand to include the golf course community. Currently, the town is on well water. If the town is to grow, a public water system is a critical hurdle that must be leaped.
The uranium mines which once played such a crucial role in the area’s economic growth are getting ready to open once again. Although the mines themselves are near Gateway, George Glasier, the president of Energy Fuels, the mining company, anticipates that most employees will live in the Nucla/Naturita area, where housing is available and less expensive.
Public water and sewer are two issues that are at the forefront of development in Whitewater, too. Clifton Water recently built a 1,000,000-gallon storage tank to serve the residents who live in Whitewater. A new 10-inch water line was also installed to not only better serve current customers, but to accommodate expected growth.
“We have to stay just one step ahead of the growth,” says Dale Tooker, the manager of Clifton Water District. The company is caught between a rock and a hard place; trying to anticipate and be ready for growth that may or not be at the level projected by the Mesa County Planning Department while also affordably serving the customers it already has.
“We serve 37,000 people in Clifton with 12,000 individual taps,” says Tooker. “Most of our capital improvements should go to the 12,000 existing customers regardless of the projections for growth.”
Residents in Whitewater are currently pursuing a public sewer service. A meeting at the fairgrounds was held on February 6 to discuss whether residents want to build their own wastewater treatment facility or pump wastewater uphill and connect with either Clifton or the Persigo facility.
Although building a facility would give residents more control over the growth, it could also be a more costly process, and there is more risk involved. In connecting with either of the larger districts, costs would be spread out to more homeowners.
“Even if you didn’t make the meeting, the county will still be soliciting input from the public,” says Constan. “We will take a recommendation to the county commissioners on Feb 25.” Those who want more information are welcome to contact Julie Contan at 255-5045.
The county is in the process of developing a master plan for Whitewater that’s currently in front of the county commissioners. The plan includes various multiple-density housing zones, a business park, recreational areas and recommendations to create a pleasant community.
“We’re getting it in place so when the sewer plant comes in, everybody will be able to go forth and build,” says Michael Warren, Senior Planner with Mesa County.
Most developers are waiting on the plan before making any plans of their own. Current available housing in Whitewater varies from older, smaller mobile homes to upper-end homes sitting on large acreage.
It is much more difficult to find housing in Gateway, as the inventory is smaller and the demand is high.
Whitewater is one of the most affordable places in the entire valley to buy small acreage home sites. It’s been under the radar for many buyers, but its popularity is growing. As more amenities come to the area, that will only continue.