Community pride

Cleaning up gateways is a good place to start

Several years ago, amidst discussions of how to make Cortez more attractive, citizens quickly grew upset over what they perceived as undue regulation.

In the western political climate of the time, any government restriction of property use was likely to be labeled a ďtaking.Ē As a result, common-sense requirements like architectural design standards for the exterior of big-box stores or the rule that parking lots must be interspersed with islands of landscaping often were shouted down.

The city quietly persevered, and the effort was greatly aided by business owners and developers who recognized the advantages of attractive buildings with welcoming landscaping, as well as the wisdom in creating an environment in which oneís neighbors also prosper. Nobody benefits from a weedy lot or a building thatís empty and derelict. Local banks have led the way in constructing beautiful new facilities, in part because bankers understand how valuable the image of prosperity can be to a community. The Journal, too, sought a design that didnít suggest an industrial warehouse.

The downtown area is slowly improving. The cityís parks are an attractive selling point. A new high school south of Walmart would be a powerful visual boost as well as an implicit message that Cortez considers education a top priority ó also a selling point.

But some of the townís gateways are not appealing.

Thatís not an unusual phenomenon in rural communities where county governments often are less restrictive than municipalities. Small businesses cluster just outside of town in order to benefit from proximity to population centers while avoiding regulations like fire and building codes ó a choice that can backfire in several ways. Buffer zones in which cities and counties work together on just such issues have not found strong popular support in Montezuma County. Downtown groups have few resources to clean up the sparse fringes of town.

The south approach to Cortez is especially unattractive. The M&M Truck Stop, once a gathering place for locals as well as truckers, has fallen into such ugly disrepair that some locals wish the port of entry building had been placed on the corner.

Itís not the only unused, unappealing parcel in that area.

We understand that many small businesses survive on a very thin margin. While we might suggest that more welcoming premises might help, thatís an individual decision.

Empty buildings are an easier place to start. While cleaning up former gas stations and meth labs may be prohibitively expensive, other remedies are not. Cutting weeds, removing trash, painting over graffiti, even replacing broken windows are responsibilities of people living in a community. It certainly makes sense to start with any buildings that are dangerous, including those tucked into residential areas, but once that is accomplished, it also makes sense to make tackling the most visible offenders a high priority.

The city does a very good job in sponsoring clean-up days, making trash trucks available at a reasonable fee, and, above all, cooperating with property owners. Cortez is in no way an example of Big Government; itís local people working together.

If ways can be found to fund and perform the bigger jobs ó demolishing buildings that cannot be renovated, removing contamination, ensuring public safety and creating sites that are more conducive to redevelopment ó that should be considered not expropriation but collaboration.

When Cortez thrives, everyone here benefits. Itís appropriate that government should be part of the means of creating an environment thatís attractive to businesses, residents and visitors.