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Publish Date: 4/10/2005

Longmont launching identity discussion

LONGMONT — Did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?

It’s a question now facing the city of Longmont, which will be finished “growing up” — or at least building new homes and shops — within the next decade or so.

For more than a decade, growth has fueled the city’s expansion and filled its coffers with millions of dollars to pay for recreation and senior services, police patrols and library books.

But that growth is coming to an end. The city is about 20,000 residents away from its final population of about 101,000, and many of the homes for those new people are already proposed or in the pipeline.

And just like it is with high school students, decisions that city leaders and residents make today will chart the course of Longmont’s future. As the city ages, it will become harder to make dramatic adjustments to its character.

Young cities, like young people, can change dramatically in the span of a few years. But older cities, like older people, are more set in their ways. The best you can hope for, in many instances, is a little tinkering around the edges.

“The decisions we’ll be making in the next one to five years may be far more influential on our future 15 years down the road than the decisions we’re making 15 years down the road,” Longmont City Manager Gordon Pedrow said.

Put another way: There won’t be much opportunity to change Longmont in 15 years. That direction must be set now.

And to help set that direction, city leaders are inviting all Longmont residents to a summit April 16 at the Radisson Conference Center.

The idea behind the summit is to discuss what people like about Longmont and how they want the grown-up city to look. That vision will be written down and called the Longmont Strategic Plan. It will basically set how the city should grow up, not where. The “where” information is contained in the Longmont Area Comprehensive Plan.

The summit is being couched and initially conducted in general terms.

“I believe the concept of Longmont as ‘one giant front porch’ suits us,” Mayor Julia Pirnack said. “A front porch is comfortable, inviting and a place where folks can step outside of their private world to welcome and get to know their neighbors. It’s a place where people naturally gather, a place to visit, a place to reminisce about the past and to dream about the future.

“Here we can share ideas, discuss challenges, celebrate our accomplishments, make plans or simply enjoy each other.”

Underlying the process, however, is an acknowledgement by city leaders that an important source of money is going to start drying up: the construction of new homes and businesses.

This year, the city expects to sell 820 building permits for homes, apartments and shops, bringing in $9.6 million in development-related fees.

And sales taxes collected on lumber, concrete and other building materials to erect new homes and businesses will account for another $5.3 million in city revenue this year.

In total, that’s about $15 million out of a total budget of $190 million. But keep in mind that much of the city’s money comes from “selling” water and electricity to residents. And under city policy, the rates charged to utility customers must be set to cover barely more than the cost of providing those services. That means residents pay very little for power and water, compared to people in other cities and towns, but it also means Longmont can’t divert extra funds into discretionary spending.

Development fees and sales taxes, however, can be directed into a much broader range of services, even though they are largely used to pay for city planners, inspectors and engineers.

And over the last 15 years, Longmont has grown increasingly dependent on the money it gets from selling building permits and collects on building materials.

But even as the number of homes being built declines, the number of services demanded by residents will increase. Longmont is getting older, and those people will want more services aimed at active and relatively younger seniors called “zoomers.”

Paying for those programs will mean finding new sources of money. Shops and businesses are being targeted as the major sources.

But specifically what kind? As Longmont gradually ages, should the city try to attract more Country Buffets and drugstores instead of martini bars and Banana Republics?

In truth, it’s a far more complicated equation that also includes attracting large retailers of all kinds today so they don’t build elsewhere tomorrow.

In her invitation to residents to attend the summit, Pirnack said she wants Longmont to reflect the community’s shared values, and she encouraged people to step forward with ideas.

“The goal of the plan is to identify the best of Longmont, build on our community’s strengths and, finally, create a set of policies that will ensure Longmont’s future as a vibrant, free-standing community,” Pirnack said. “The planning process and outcomes will strike a balance between what we want for our community and the recognition that we have limited resources.

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