I understand that there are many perspectives on each of these issues, and my goal as a City Council member is to objectively listen to and seek understanding from my fellow community members.
Whether we are seeing new development near our neighborhoods, driving in increased traffic, or unable to find affordable housing options in the city, the impact of growth has likely affected us all. However, growth has also benefited our quality of life, increasing our amenities and options for retail and restaurants, and bringing more jobs to our city and region. Regardless, growth should be measured and strategic, and designed to position our community for long-term resilience. Denser growth should be located near shopping, transportation corridors, and transit to reduce the impacts to our local streets. Additionally, it should be designed and integrated into the surrounding community, whether that is through transitions in height, provision of parks and open space, or enhancement of connectivity and access for the community.
Having lived in affordable housing in my youth, and more recently, sought out housing for my mother who is on a fixed income, I understand the value and the need to expand housing options and availability for both low-income families and seniors. Growth throughout the entire Denver region has placed additional stress on families looking to maintain economic stability and access to housing. As we move into a recovery period from the recent pandemic, it will be even more important to preserve and provide affordable and attainable housing throughout the city that is available to all of our residents.
The growth and success of Downtown Westminster is deeply personal to me. For eight years, I worked with our community to create the vision and first phase of our Downtown. Every element of our Downtown, from the width of the streets, the design of our public spaces, and the uses above were planned to be resilient, accessible, and devoted to building community. The Downtown will develop, one building at a time, with a wide variety of owners and businesses. Because of this variety of ownership and uses, the health and vitality of our Downtown is not banking on the financial stability of just one developer. Additionally, as the Downtown builds out, it will increasingly be able to contribute back to our City through property and sales tax revenues. Over time, our vital Downtown will be a significant source of revenue for our city, and more importantly, an important source of community.
One of the most rewarding experiences I have had in building the first phase of our new Downtown was in relation to the first residential project to open on the site. The Eaton Street development has 118 units of affordable housing, ranging from 30-60% of our Area Median Income. The apartments include one, two, and three-bedroom units that can accommodate a range of family sizes and incomes. Creating a safe, healthy home and environment for families was my driving force in bringing this project to fruition. One morning, as I was visiting the Downtown site just a few days after the project had opened, I watched several children board a school bus and head to school. Seeing this made my day, my month, my year.
Our city has a vibrant economic foundation, with a range of stable and growing industries. We have many large employers that have found their home in Westminster as well as a wide range of small businesses. Many of these small businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic over the past year, and the City has worked hard through programs like WestyRISE to provide assistance. As our economy continues to recover, it will be essential to look for opportunities to support our business environment and retain jobs. Maintaining a variety of employers and industries will ensure our economic resilience into the future. Likewise, creating environments to foster investment in our community is also essential, whether these are well-established employment centers like Park Center, dense, mixed-use centers like Downtown Westminster, or unique destinations like Historic Westminster's 73rd Avenue, they are critical to our city's identity and economic longevity.
The provision, improvement, and maintenance of public infrastructure is one of the City’s primary responsibilities with our tax dollars and fees. The quality and maintenance of Westminster’s infrastructure is sometimes highly visible, like our well-maintained roads, or when we take to the streets that have been cleared after a snow storm. However, what we don’t see is the infrastructure below ground—much of which was constructed between the 1970s to 1990s, during the City’s greatest period of expansion and population growth. Most sewer and water infrastructure installed during this timeframe has a lifespan of 50 years, and either soon, or already, needs replacement. Like most cities, the cost to replace this infrastructure far exceeds the City’s funding sources. This infrastructure serves our existing neighborhoods, businesses, and schools, and it is important to me that we fund and plan for this maintenance to occur over time.
My family has felt the increase of water rates over the past year. However, our efforts over the years to reduce our water use have certainly reduced the impact. We changed all of our toilets and fixtures to low-flow within the house, took the City's water audit for our landscaping, replaced our sprinkler heads with low-flow devices, and installed a sprinkler controller that syncs with local weather forecast data. While my family has been able to invest in these improvements, I recognize that many families with fixed or lower incomes can not. The City should continue to find creative solutions and pursue programming to assist these households in transitioning to lower water use and managing the impact of increased water rates.
Environmental stewardship and preservation of open space is very important to me. I want my children to live in and enjoy this city and region with the same quality of life and environment we have today. I currently serve on Westminster’s Environmental Advisory Board, where I can encourage sustainability through our City services and policy. This includes ensuring a safe and healthy environment, responsible residential and commercial wastewater management, safe disposal of hazardous materials, and supporting residential and business recycling. Our open space is also a very important component of our city’s environment. Access to well-maintained trails and open space is one of our community’s most valued assets. Additionally, these spaces are also critical habitat for a rich variety of native animals and plants. The City should continue to protect these environments and look for opportunities to expand or connect them through strategic acquisitions.
Over the past year, the pandemic has brought into stark light the disparity of income and opportunity that exists both nationally and locally. While the City cannot bridge this gap in equity alone, it can work with organizations in our community, businesses, school districts, healthcare providers, and regional partners to build on their work and provide complementary programming and policies to support their efforts. The City can also examine its own actions to ensure investments, location of amenities, and maintenance is equitable throughout the community. Additionally, the City should continue to engage the Inclusivity Board as well as the community as a whole to reach under-represented residents, business owners, and community leaders.
Westminster has a strong track record of taking our future into our own hands, and this includes delivering services like water, fire, and police. In so doing, we are able to chart our own path on the quality and delivery of these services. For example, our Fire Department is one of a few in the nation that hold both top national and international accreditations (ISO and CFAI). And our Police Department is working to expand and redefine the way they communicate and operate in our community. This includes now including mental health providers into their calls. I am confident in my former colleagues and the strong values and positive intentions that guide their efforts. As a Council member in the future, I will support and encourage their efforts toward ensuring a high quality of service that is inclusive, safe, and healthy for our entire community and workforce.
We’ve all experienced the frustration of congested roads and increased traffic in Westminster and our commutes to work and activities. While some of this traffic in the city is generated by new development, most of it comes from growth in neighboring cities and the region as a whole.
Westminster is almost fully built out, and opportunities for new road connections are few and far between. We must look at strategic approaches to reduce our time and trips on the road. This includes focusing development density near a mix of uses so people don’t need a car for every trip, fostering alternative modes of travel like biking and walking, and increasing our access to transit. It also includes small moves, like signal coordination or methods to encourage people to carpool or take transit instead of drive. In the long run, there is no one solution—instead, it will be a combination of big moves like new transit lines or small steps like behavioral changes, that will help to improve our experience on the road.
As an artist myself, I truly value the importance of nurturing art and culture in our community. Westminster has developed its own arts identity over the years, and includes a historic arts district along 73rd Avenue and a public art program that has brought art throughout the city through commercial development. Over the past several years, the City has also expanded its arts and culture programming through city events. These have included welcoming events like the Latino Festival and the Big Wonderful to the city as well as city-run events like Harvest Fest, Zombie Golf, and the Adult Easter Egg Hunt. Events like these, as well as arts and culture as a whole, contribute significantly to our city’s identity and ability to remain vibrant and relevant into the future.
Copyright © 2021 Sarah Nurmela for Westminster City Council - All Rights Reserved.
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