This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.
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BUENA VISTA — After nearly a decade of concerts and events that have thrilled thousands while riling neighbors, the owners of 277 acres of pristine pastures along Cottonwood Creek are pondering how to develop a neighborhood there.
And they want to include everyone in town in the planning.
The Selby family — who bought the 277-acre Meadows property at a foreclosure auction in 2013 — recently hosted dozens of residents at a four-day public meeting to incorporate local sentiment into the plan.
“We really haven’t known what to do there. We’re developers. I’m a developer. It’s obvious that development would be something that’s on our minds,” said Jed Selby, who 21 years ago led his father, Dr. Robert Selby, mother, Kris, and sister, Katie, in developing 41 acres in Buena Vista, using New Urbanist design principles to create South Main on the banks of the Arkansas River.
“But the property is literally perfect as it is, so we’ve been very, very timid to build anything permanent out there,” he said. “With that said, what we have done is a fairly comprehensive rework of all the agricultural systems. We built a pond for irrigation. We put in miles of farming roads. We’ve leveled fields, and we continually ask the question of how do we create a site where there are ultimately permanent buildings, ultimately a neighborhood, and how does it work for all uses?”
As Jed, his wife, Kennley, and the rest of the Selby family see it, the land is pretty ideal, with senior water rights and plenty of farmable acres. In its quiet days, which is most of the year, you find locals walking their dogs, kids splashing in the creek, toddlers learning to ride bikes, and small gatherings of celebration.
The Selbys welcome the visitors and look the other way on this trespassing that has otherwise evolved into a norm. Jed, who loves rivers and live music, sees the visitors as part of his larger vision to share the space with everyone. The property’s largest lea — the “long meadow,” as it’s called — seemed to be a natural place to weave in possible music experiences.
“The long meadow is incredibly beautiful — the space requires consideration of a national park, it’s that beautiful,” Jed said.
The Meadows has become home to festivals that have spanned the spectrum of music. Vertex was the first attempt at holding a multi-day festival on the property. The three-day fest in 2016 brought artists like Odesza, Alabama Shakes and Graham Nash. The Vertex festival owner, Madison House declined to host a second rendition in 2017 after a quite lengthy public process of complaints and the rejection of a three-year permit to stay in Buena Vista.
Next the Selbys hosted the Seven Peaks Festival, which brought pop country to the long meadow with performers including Luke Bryan, Maren Morris, and Dierks Bentley. That festival made it two years before organizers moved to the San Luis Valley after clashing with Chaffee County commissioners over COVID capacity limitations, early ticket sales and noise limitations.
There are plenty of Buena Vista locals who share fond memories from festivals at The Meadows. There also are locals — mostly neighbors who live next to the pastures that had been quiet for decades — who consider the events intrusive. Tumultuous is an understatement when describing the Selbys’ mission to forge a permanent music venue in this space.
Selby hopes to to have found a middle ground with the three-day Renewal Festival and artist Billy Strings, who has sold out The Meadows since first performing in the long meadow in 2021. Bonfire Entertainment, the owner of Renewal, aims to “create simple and authentic community gatherings for the adventurous spirit, concentrating on the quality of the experience,” according to the promoter’s website. (Earlier this year a district judge dismissed a lawsuit by neighbors who sued Jed Selby and Chaffee County commissioners to end the property’s Renewal Festival, arguing the event violated local noise ordinances.)
“From the first event to now, we’ve learned a lot and continue to get better at events,” Jed said. “The goal would be to create a permanent facility with timeless bones.”
During recent years with a couple annual music festivals and some farming, The Meadows has remained relatively unchanged. But change is coming.
The Meadows is bordered on all four sides by homes. It’s not sprawl, Jed said, it’s infill with development adjacent to the historical downtown of Buena Vista.
“It’s surrounded by neighbors — so it’s a fairly high impact property for the town, for everyone, so it’s also a huge opportunity for the town, for everyone,” he said.
Looking for a 50-year plan for the Meadows
The time to start considering a development plan has come, and the Selby family does not take the process lightly.
“We’re advocating for something beautiful. We want to ask ourselves what can we do to enhance it,” Kennley Selby said. “The idea for building The Meadows would be an idea that would be a design to play out for the next 100 years, or longer. It could take a very long time to build something out there. Over the next 10, 20, 50 years, how can it be really livable and special all the time?
“The exercise really becomes what can we imagine, what do we want, and if we start from what we want, then it will naturally weed out what we didn’t want to see and the vision will become clear.”
The family invited Dover, Kohl and Partners, a Florida team of New Urbanist community planners who designed the Selby’s South Main community, to make the trek to Buena Vista for a week-long public design charrette. On May 20, there was a kickoff and hands-on design session where the public was given an introduction to the process. The attendees were split into small groups with each completing a design process that included their hopes and aspirations for the development.
The next day involved an open design studio, where the ideas floated by the public were put on display and the design team and property owners addressed ideas and questions. Monday was an open house during which a number of paths forward were narrowed down. To conclude the process, a “work-in-progress presentation” wrapped in possible ideas from the public. A mobile-phone poll of attendees in the Surf Hotel’s Ivy Ballroom by the Dover Kohl team asked if the vision for The Meadows was on track. More than three-quarters of the room said yes and another 23% said maybe.
The public process was open to everyone and it drew, not surprisingly, Buena Vista’s boosters. There were not many who attended the week of meetings who were firmly opposed to any development. The Selby family has detractors in Buena Vista and those folks tend to show up when it’s time to oppose, not support, the developer’s plans.
So it felt like a success in the place that started both the Selbys’ and Dover and Kohl’s development journey in Buena Vista. The Surf Hotel and Ivy Ballroom are epicenters in the first traditional neighborhood plan, which includes clustered houses, shops, a brewery, studios and a bike shop, all anchored by both a riverfront square and trail along the Arkansas River.
This process is rare in a developer’s path. When you open up your process to public opinion, reactions can vary.
“We see this as a community project, we see it as something that’s going to impact a lot of people, so we want to have those who are interested included in the direction,” Jed said. “This is probably like a 100-year plan, or maybe a 50-year plan, but if you don’t know the whole plan when you start, it’s hard to know that you’re doing the right thing along the way.”
It must look good. But what other values inform the development?
The Selbys came to the table with 10 guiding principles for the process. Beauty is at the foremost of their requirements.
“Beauty is something we take very seriously — we also believe there are principles to beauty and timeless beauty that are embedded within traditional architecture, and the wisdom of that approach toward building, Jed said.
Inclusivity is the next big idea. The Selbys aim to build a place that is multi-generational with young people, families, the elderly and residents of different incomes living in one neighborhood. Functionality and flexibility will allow residents to rent apartments above their garage, in their basement or even their primary bedroom to locals or visitors. The flexibility of zoning to allow for multiple opportunities for different stages and times in life.
Prosperity is a similar founding principle.
“What happens when you build a building and it works out for the buyer? It makes them money,” Jed said, noting the median income in Buena Vista has “almost tripled in the past 20 years, but it’s still below the state average and costs in the mountains are high.”
It’s a challenge as a community to build to help, not hurt this already fragile environment. Safety, health and fun are founding principles intertwined in the Selby vision. Timelessness is the last big one for Selby and his family.
“This is a big principle for us,” he said. “It’s actually the result, the end game. If you achieve these things, create a place that’s beautiful and functional, high quality, it lasts, it works, and people like it, then they don’t tear it down and it lasts for a long time.”
The challenges presented at the first day of the charrette included housing, water, year-round jobs, prosperity, traffic, noise and maintaining a small-town lifestyle.
Dover, Kohl and Partners had their work cut out for them.
Selby believes that it’s possible to have it all.
“It’s possible to build a place that is actually more beautiful after the humans are involved,” he said. “I think it’s easy to not trust development because a lot of it is not very loveable — but there are examples we can find that create something we like better than before.”
Victor Dover, the designer who helped found the influential Dover Kohl firm, agreed.
“We’ve all experienced development that makes things worse rather than better,” Dover said, “watching a beloved field or pasture turn into an office park, or a tract-style subdivision, and we feel like it’s a trade down not a trade up. It reinforces the condition of being suspicious of growth and change, so what we want to remind everybody is as we start this work, is that if we work together and we’re smart about it, the growth and change can make things better.”
At the completion of the charrette, the overarching message is that this is a draft. The end result is a preliminary design of a potential development that keeps most of the dense development to the eastern side of the 277-acre property, closest to town. The west side would be “less townifed,” Dover said.
Possibilities include a campground for seasonal employees, a farm-to-table restaurant using the farm that is currently working there, a dormitory-type development for local workforce housing, a hotel, and a permanent amphitheater that could fit into the natural bowl shape of the long meadow.
James Dougherty, the director of design at Dover, Kohl and Partners, said the proposed development would “connect gently with the town and gently with nature.”
New Urbanism is the motivation and inspiration behind this plan. Clicking through slides of century-old towns, Dover said inspiration for The Meadows would come from European and English villages, with open spaces right next to tightly wound development that “feels both cozy and wide open.”
“Wouldn’t that be a cool thing to try and achieve at The Meadows?” Dover said.
The traditional urbanism concept draws from a few main ideas, with smaller neighborhoods that have clearly evident centers and edges. There should be mixed land uses and mixed housing types, all connected with walkable streets. Lastly, there should be special sites for gathering and events.
“These are the big ideas, these are what makes it feel good, what makes it work well, adds value, and hopefully what makes this environmentally sustainable and socially meaningful,” Dover said.
Some people showed up for all four days of the workshop
Many of the locals took part in all four stages of the charrette.
Buena Vista resident Amy Lively acknowledged the change and growth that is coming.
“But it’s careful, planned, plotted, and purposeful growth, which I think is a beautiful thing,” she said. “And it’s an asset to the community.”
Local John Armstrong liked the process and being able to voice his concerns.
“I thought it provided a lot of information about how this process is done and how people in the community can actually be involved, share ideas, come up with solutions that are beneficial and equitable for everyone in town,” Armstrong said.
At the end of the four days, Dover saw a clear message that makes The Meadows and Buena Vista different from his firm’s other projects.
“What’s outside matters,” Dover said. “In Buena Vista, it becomes pretty clear, it’s not like other places. Outside is more important, and so the quality of the spaces outside, whether preservation areas or play spaces, or streets, are in a way, more important than what’s inside.”
There are many steps to go from this charrette to digging the first paved road in The Meadows. The design team will compress public input into a design that aligns with finances and water. Then comes a zoning process with the town and application for possible annexation into the Town of Buena Vista.
“It’s all a balancing act, and I think you have to get something down on paper as a draft hypothesis and then perfect it through all the conversation,” Dover said. “That aspect of work is not over.”
The Selby family is proud of the conversations held in the public process and excited for what’s coming.
“I was really excited to do the public process,” Kennley said. “I felt like we would learn a lot, and I felt like it would start a new conversation. I think it was really successful.”
Local Earl Richmond echoed that sentiment.
“It all looks amazing. It’s bringing all our culture, and all the really neat things happening in the valley here, to make that a reality out in The Meadows,” Richmond said. “I love all the open space and trails that are preserving the feel out there. Our town is blossoming.”