|Council lobbied to keep HARP green
By PETER ROPER | email@example.com
Thousands of people crowded the banks of the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo to enjoy the Fourth of July concert and fireworks show.
It was a community gathering of such size that City Councilwoman Judy Weaver found herself wondering about the future of the grassy channel banks that were covered in people.
"It was such a special night that I thought, ‘People are going to be really upset if we take this away from them,’ ’’ Weaver said Tuesday.
J. Doug Ohmans couldn't agree more.
In fact, the 65-year-old East Sider is upset that the city, the Urban Renewal Authority of Pueblo and HARP officials would even consider selling the grassy central area on HARP for commercial development.
Ohmans brought petitions with 170 signatures to council Monday supporting his demand that council "Save Our Grassy Slopes."
"Pueblo people have adopted that area as a beautiful central park in the Downtown and every great city has one," Ohmans said Tuesday. "We need to save that open space."
Not that those lots are on the verge of being sold, but they are for sale. After all, the strategic plan for the Riverwalk, the general idea that city voters endorsed when they voted to build HARP, was that it would become an attractive, commercial core for the Downtown anchored by the waterway. More businesses, more jobs, more tax revenue, more everything.
But, Ohmans saw the Fourth of July crowd and decided it was time to strike. Along with several supporters, he'd been collecting signatures on petitions for some time.
"I wrote up the petition this spring and along with a friend (local artist Ivy Carter), we just started collecting signatures on HARP, stopping families with baby strollers and anyone we encountered," he said. "All you had to do was point at the grassy slopes and ask, ‘Do you want that developed or do you like it the way it is?’ ’’
Ohmans is a wind-surfing, gray-haired activist of sorts who moved to Pueblo in 2003. He took part in grass-roots campaigns to protect open space in Golden during his years there. Ohmans doesn't like the development trend along the Riverwalk either. "It's like we're trying to be a Colorado Springs clone," he groused.
Council members might recoil at that comparison, but they liked what they saw on the Fourth of July and told Ohmans they understood his passion for keeping the grassy areas open.
"When you saw all those thousands of people, it was very impressive. I agree that it's important to have a place for Pueblo to gather for events like that," Councilman Steve Nawrocki said. "We probably need to find some kind of balance between open space and development on HARP, but I think we can put developing these sites on a back burner for now."
Councilman Chris Kaufman serves on the Urban Renewal board and said the popularity of the HARP area could very well backfire on its original purpose as a business zone. The authority board met Tuesday and Kaufman relayed the discussion from the council meeting.
"I advised them they need a Plan B, to be thinking about a place for community events if these lots sell," Kaufman said. He noted that Urban Renewal and HARP have hired a broker specifically to sell lots along the Riverwalk, including the grassy areas.
Weaver understands what HARP was created to do and the strategic planning that has progressed thus far.
"But plans can change," she said Tuesday. "We may want to take a longer look at what HARP has become to the public, the people who paid for it."