Carbondale candidates leery of big box |

Carbondale candidates leery of big box

John Stroud
Carbondale correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE ” When faced with the prospect of Carbondale maximizing its potential revenue gains by allowing a smaller-scale, green-built, national retail chain store anchor at the Crystal River Marketplace, incumbent trustee candidate Ed Cortez said he was prompted to rethink his previous staunch position against a big-box store coming to town.

“I chose what I chose based on what I thought would work best economically for the town,” said Cortez at last week’s Town Board candidates forum, referring to his change of opinion last spring when Marketplace developer Rich Schierburg re-introduced the idea of a big-box anchor on the property.

“When I met with the developer, he asked me what it would take to get a big box approved, and I told him,” Cortez said. “I never thought he would come back and say that Home Depot was willing to deliver.”

At Schierburg’s request, the Town Board invited Home Depot representatives for a presentation, in which they indicated a willingness to build a smaller-scale “box,” about 80,000 square feet, as opposed to 100,000 square feet or more. They also said they would work with local green-building experts to make the structure is energy efficient and would even apply for LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficient Design) certification.

However, trustees, on a 4-3 straw vote later that spring, ultimately decided to have Schierburg pursue the less-contentious “flex zone” design option for the Marketplace. To date, no formal development application has been received.

Cortez is running for re-election in the April 1 town council election, along with seven other candidates for four open seats on the town board: John Hoffmann, Frosty Merriott, Barry Maggert, Sean Keery, Pam Zentmyer, Brent Moss and Dan Van Devander.

Of all the issues discussed at the March 12 forum, the candidates were most split on the potential for a big-box development, versus a smaller-scale, mixed-use type development option.

“The big box is the best option financially. But I don’t support it,” said Van Devander.

However, he said he does not agree with the bias of the town against national retail chains when there are currently already quite a few in town. He said that he hopes the town can move past that bias in the future.

“I don’t think the big box will happen here in Carbondale,” Van Devander said in an earlier interview with The Valley Journal. “I don’t see enough people supporting it. But it all comes down to what people consider a big box.”

Maggert remains the most pro big-box candidate, as he was in past council elections when he ran. He said a larger anchor tenant will be necessary to draw business to any smaller businesses that go along with the development.

“If you put more residential there instead of commercial, it puts more of a burden on the town in terms of services, without any source of revenue to support it,” Maggert said.

Merriott, Keery, Moss, Hoffmann and Zentmyer expressed anti big-box sentiments, as they believed that the development would not fit well with Carbondale’s small-town character.

“Carbondale is small town,” Moss said. And, “voters voted against a big box, straight-up.”

Instead, the town should build on what it already has going for it, he said. “We have a lot of green businesses, and I think we could go for some medium-size anchors out there (at the Marketplace). Let’s just see what some of them might offer.”

Merriott, a member of multiple town boards in the past, reminded the forum audience that the issue had been explored thoroughly and he felt that a reasonable decision had been made for a flex zone plan with smaller business entities that ought to be stuck to.

“This issue is not dead but it ought to be dead,” Merriott said. “I don’t want to put this town through another referendum, and that is what will happen if we open this issue up again.”

Merriott added in a separate interview, “That business model (big-box format retail stores) is not going to work in the next 10 years because of energy costs. We need to move forward.”

Zentmyer took a more long-term view on the issue, as well.

“Whatever we do today is going to have long-lasting effects,” she said. “We have to be very pragmatic about what we decide and come up with something that will lead us to a more amicable solution. If we want to preserve the character of the town, we need to think real hard about what gets built out there.”

Hoffmann said he would prefer to follow the recommendations of the Economic Roadmap Group, which came to the conclusion that the flex zone option would be best for the Marketplace property.

“The consensus from the Roadmap committee was a stunning achievement,” he told The Valley Journal. “I really felt the Roadmap committee did a great job.”


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