Carbondale can’t escape the big box | AspenTimes.com
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Carbondale can’t escape the big box

Chad Abraham
John Foulkrod
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The marketplace has been the center of a town’s activity and attention for centuries.At times, it seems as if the Crystal River Marketplace has dominated Carbondale politics for about as long. The plan for 225,000 square feet of retail space, including a 125,000-square-foot anchor building, on pasture land along Highway 133 north of Main Street was shot down by residents in 2003.But the big-box issue has again crept into the campaigns leading up to Tuesday’s trustee and mayoral elections. Candidates and others involved in a consensus-building attempt to map Carbondale’s future retail scene differ on whether the issue will ever go away.”It’s kind of like the Entrance to Aspen: It’s one of those things that never goes away,” said Design Workshop founder Don Ensign, comparing it to the decades-long upvalley issue. “I don’t have great hope that it’s ever going to go away. There’s a certain contingent of people in the town who are basically conservative and feel like we shouldn’t get in the way of the marketplace, that the town needs the money and we ought to go after it any way we can.

“And then there’s another group that thinks what we have to sell here is the character of the town.”Both sides represent legitimate points of view, “and it’s hard to argue with either of them,” Ensign said. “Growth is the issue in resort towns. What else do we have to worry about?”The argument is essentially one of sales tax, and the subsequent projects that become possible with more revenue, versus the preservation of small businesses and Carbondale’s character.In the acrimonious aftermath of the 2003 vote, 13 representatives of both sides agreed to try to work out their differences through an effort known as the economic road map.The 18 months of economic road map discussions ended with a proposed cap of 60,000 square feet on new commercial buildings. The trustees voted 4-3 on to refer the cap to the town’s planning and zoning committee for its recommendation.

The candidatesIncumbent Trustee John Foulkrod, who is running for re-election, joined Mayor Michael Hassig and Trustee Stacey Patch Bernot in voting against moving the cap recommendation to the P&Z. Hassig and Bernot are also running for re-election.All three criticized the meeting in which the trustees voted to move the recommendation to the planning and zoning commission.”I felt it got rushed to judgment,” Foulkrod said.

He said the original intent of the meeting was to break down the road map recommendations. Hassig prepared an outline of the discussion, but Trustee Russ Criswell made a motion to move the hard-cap proposal to the P&Z, Foulkrod said. Criswell is challenging Hassig for the mayor’s seat.The other three voting for the recommendation were Scott Chaplin, who is running for re-election, Ed Cortez and Alice Laird.”It was just kind of ‘wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am’ action. That kind of aggravated me,” Foulkrod said.Chaplin defended the action.”There’s a few very vocal people who are still pushing for [a big-box],” he said. “In my opinion, a super-sized Wal-Mart would be horrible for Carbondale. We can have some mini big-box stores.”

He said he’s not opposed to more retail but is against Carbondale landing a Super Wal-Mart akin to what Rifle has.”We do need some more retail, but it’s going to be architecturally beautiful. It’s going to be complementing our existing mix of business and have a positive impact on the town overall,” Chaplin said.Foulkrod also voted against the move to form a committee to study revenue diversification, saying the group will consider nothing but tax and fee increases. Bernot opposed the committee idea for similar reasons.Foulkrod said he is “not entirely opposed” to a potential big-box store.

“You talk about a big-box: Well, you’re putting yourself in a box,” he said of the building cap. “I thought that the big-box option, whether it be Home Depot or any other big box, should at least be looked at.”The road map group originally proposed a “soft cap” that would have allowed buildings larger than 60,000 square feet, provided they met design rules and other standards. But the road map participants Feb. 14 changed their recommendation to a “hard cap,” meaning a ban on buildings larger than 60,000 square feet.Foulkrod didn’t agree with the hard-cap proposal and said he “heard a lot of people say they were not in favor of hard caps.”A fourth candidate for the three seats is Barry Maggert. He did not return a call for comment.Bernot voted against moving the hard-cap recommendation to the P&Z because she said the original economic and strategic plan the road map group forged did not include the proposal. Like Foulkrod, she cited that plan’s soft-cap provision as something she favors.

“To me, that wasn’t their true recommendation. Not all the road map members were in attendance [Feb. 14],” Bernot said. “It wasn’t a very loving meeting, to put it mildly.”The development issue permeates town because residents in 2003 voted on the Marketplace plan, not big-boxes in general, she said.”There were so many things with that project; it wasn’t just a big-box issue,” Bernot said. “People were concerned about the highway, the size and the lack of a tenant. They didn’t know who was coming.”I don’t feel that that was a clear mandate on big-boxes.”Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com


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