Carbondale voters erase VCR approvals
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE – The proposed Village at Crystal River development project was resoundingly rejected by Carbondale voters Tuesday by a margin of nearly 2-1.
According to Garfield County Clerk Jean Alberico, 1,245 voted to overturn the town Board of Trustees’ approval of the project, while 667 voted to uphold that approval.
Celebrating at the Carbondale Beer Works on Tuesday night, members of the Locals for Smarter Growth group were gleeful about the outcome of the election.
“Hooray,” yelled Allyn Harvey, one of the organizers of the Locals’ electoral effort.
“Heart beat money,” added Denise Moss, noting that development supporters outspent opponents by a factor of six – $45,000 to the Locals’ $6,800 – over the course of the election.
Developer Rich Schierburg, who has been working for six years to get the VCR project approved, was not in Carbondale on election day.
Reached by telephone at his Denver office, Schierburg said he had suffered a death in his family on Tuesday and declined to discuss the election.
John Baker, a principal member of the Say YES to Carbondale group, said of the election results, “That was quite a shocker. I’m not sure what happened. I think we were expecting a pretty even split.”
Alberico estimated that 66 percent of Carbondale’s 2,890 registered voters cast ballots in the special election.
The results mean that for the second time in less than a decade, Carbondale voters have firmly rejected a proposed development for 24 acres of vacant land to the north of Main Street and west of Highway 122.
The first time was in 2003, when developer Brian Huster from California sought approvals for an entirely commercial project with a promised, but unidentified “big box” anchor tenant.
A significant factor in the outcome, said Laurie Guevara-Stone of the Locals group, was the developer’s insistence on a 1 percent “public improvements fee” or PIF, to be assessed against the sale of retail goods at the VCR.
The revenue was to pay the costs, roughly $2.4 million, of making improvements for 1,000 feet along Highway 133 from the northern end of the project site to the southern end.
“I think the PIF was a big part of it,” said Guevara-Stone. “I think a lot of people were pissed at the PIF.”
Another contributing factor, said Locals member Debbie Bruell, was a concern that building a new shopping center would take customers away from existing businesses in town.
“I heard from a lot of people who were concerned about the impact on our local businesses,” she said,
“I think Carbondale people want to have a lot to say about what happens to their town,” Bruell said. She said many felt Schierburg did not understand the needs of the town.
Baker said the election was evidence that “there are a lot of people who are very emotional about development in their community. Smarter growth, in this case, means no growth on that property.”
He predicted that the election outcome “is going to be a big signal to anyone who wants to develop anything in Carbondale.
“What developer in his right mind is going to want to come to Carbondale and go through a process like that?” Baker asked.
Putting development issues through the town government’s review process and then an election, he said, is “costly and time consuming, not only to the developer but to the entire community.”
In their battle to stop the project, Baker said of the Locals group, “I don’t think they paid attention to any of the facts, any of the details. They just don’t want development, they don’t trust developers. I think there was a lot of confusion, a lot of misinformation.”
Because there are outstanding votes that have yet to be counted, including ballots sent to people living overseas and ballots that were rejected for technical reasons but can still be “cured,” the final, official results of the election will not be known until after Feb. 9, Alberico said on Tuesday.
However, the number of ballots in questions would not be enough to change the results of the election.
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