Carbondale kills Marketplace
Carbondale voters rejected yesterday a developer’s latest proposal to build a shopping mall that included space for a big-box retailer.
The Crystal River Marketplace proposal was defeated by a margin of 57 to 43 percent despite heavy campaign spending by developer Brian Huster. There were 787 votes against the proposal and 601 in support of it.
A hard-fought and often divisive campaign helped draw a record number of voters to the polls. About 50 percent of the 2,770 registered voters cast ballots.
The project would have added 252,000 square feet of commercial space to town, an increase of about 80 percent. The proposal included a 125,000-square-foot site for a big-box retailer.
The vote doesn’t necessarily mean the project is dead – just the latest version of the proposal. The property is zoned for commercial development so Huster can undertake some level of development, noted John Tindall, a spokesman for the developer.
Dancing in the streets
The election result triggered whoops of joy from the Main Street headquarters of the Carbondale Town Mothers, a group heading opposition to the project. Bottle rockets were sent into the sky, revelers drank shots, and a crowd of about 50 broke into dance when KDNK public radio played a requested song, the Commodores’ “Brick House.”
Laurie Loeb, one of the organizers of the Town Mothers, credited the outcome on a grass-roots campaign by town residents. That was in contrast to Huster’s campaign, led by Tindall, a marketing professional from Glenwood Springs.
“It shows we have a diversity of opinions in the town but it does look like people don’t want this kind of development,” said Loeb.
She said that Huster’s reluctance to disclose much of his development and business background plus his refusal to file a campaign finance report “struck sort of a sour note for a lot of people.”
Bob Schultz, a midvalley activist and member of the Town Mothers’ steering committee, said the Marketplace had “three Achilles heels”: the proposal for a big-box retailer; the traffic that would be generated and improvements necessary for Highway 133; and the damage to the community character.
The only advantage of the project was the strong projections of sales tax revenues for the town government, Schultz said.
Before the finally tally was in, Tindall contended that if the Marketplace was defeated it would be due to the anti-development bias of an “enviro-whacko media” and distortions of facts by the Town Mothers. He claimed a number of publications in the valley, including The Aspen Times, slanted their coverage against the Marketplace.
He accused the Town Mothers of “lying” about aspects of the project, such as the traffic it would generate and the appearance of a major wall.
“They chose to distort the truth,” said Tindall. “That’s what they do.”
Loeb countered that Tindall was personally responsible for much of the divisiveness of the campaign due to his aggressive advertisements and mean-spirited approach. She also criticized Huster for not working harder with residents on a compromise.
Loeb said she hoped that the results would encourage Huster to meet with the community – friends and foes – and come up with a project that most people could support or at least tolerate.
“I’d love to see him open to working with the community. I don’t know how feasible that is,” she said.
Tindall was fuzzy about what would result from a “no” vote. He noted that a commercial project will be built on the property due to existing zoning, but he couldn’t say if that project would be bigger or smaller.
On the other hand, Tindall said Huster and his partners wouldn’t copy recent big-box developments in Avon and Grand Junction that feature “ugly brick walls.”
“The developer, win or lose, will develop a center that they will be proud of,” Tindall said.
Huster and his investors own the property, and they’re not simply going to walk away from the project, Tindall stressed. The property, located in a field between the Colorado Rocky Mountain School and City Market, is zoned for commercial development. In addition, the community’s master plan contemplates development there.
Mayor Michael Hassig confirmed that zoning entitles Huster to a certain level of development with a limited amount of review by the Town Council. He said he didn’t know off the top of his head how big the development could be, but noted that specific requirements in the town code would be applied to determine the size.
Tindall said Huster could choose to make the project bigger or smaller than the proposal voters defeated. It will depend on the evaluation of the election by Huster’s consultants.
Loeb said she isn’t worried “yet” about what Huster can develop.
Schultz said the Town Council can assert more review powers for the project, depending on whether members push for that review. This election’s outcome indicated that Town Council members’ political futures may depend on how assertive they are with the review, Schultz said.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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