Confederates’ in Carbondale rally against mall plan
A small citizens’ group billing itself as a “confederacy of individuals” led an outpouring of opposition last night to a proposed mall in Carbondale.
The Mountain Folks for Global Justice lobbied the developers of the proposed Crystal River Marketplace to scrap plans that feature big-box development with a sea of parking in favor of a grid-style more in favor with traditional downtowns.
The Mountain Folks sought a prohibition on chain stores and fast-food joints in favor of businesses that are run by locals for locals.
The activism has struck a nerve in Carbondale and throughout the midvalley. Well over 100 residents attended a meeting before the Carbondale Town Council last night, and many of them spoke against the mall in general and chain stores in particular. Stickers with the word “mall” and the universal “no” symbol of a red circle with a slash were also passed around.
Carbondale resident Steve Avery compared the mall proposal to a bad salad. No matter how good a chef the developers are or how good a dressing they make, they can’t hide the rotten salad, he said.
Avery warned that approval of the mall would start a chain reaction of undesirable development in Carbondale. Developers always promise that their projects will improve a community, but that’s rarely the case and it certainly doesn’t apply to the proposed marketplace, Avery insisted.
“There’s three words, ladies and gentlemen – choke on it. That’s their plan.”
Hopefully Carbondalians will organize opposition before it’s too late, he said, and the Earth Liberation Front won’t have to be called in. That’s the mysterious environmental group that claims responsibility for burning the Two Elks restaurant building and several chairlifts on Vail Mountain two seasons ago.
“Just once, what if the sheep became the predators?” Avery asked.
Mountain Folks for Global Justice has picked a mainstream style of opposition to the mall. They hired Aspen land-use attorney Tom Smith to monitor the town’s review and advise the grassroots organization on a course of action.
The beleaguered mall is proposed along Highway 133 on a 22-acre meadow that used to belong to the Colorado Rocky Mountain School. It was annexed into the town and zoned commercial in 1979.
Investor Dan O’Connell and his partner, Brian Huster, initially proposed a project that mixes retail, office and residential uses. Retail shops would be on the first floor of the buildings in the 377,000-square-foot development. Offices would be on the second floors, with apartments mixed in the second and on the third stories.
They plan to recruit a supermarket as their anchor tenant, then feature a mix of small, national chains such as clothiers with locally-owned shops. O’Connell has said they believe they can draw customers from a 30-mile radius.
The developers removed some of the square footage in order to meet height restrictions, but details of the altered proposal weren’t disclosed at last night’s council meeting.
O’Connell and Huster were at the meeting Tuesday night, but didn’t speak during the public forum.
Even if the developers successfully meet technical standards, the opposition to chains remains fierce. Carbondale resident Kathy Camp said the mall represented a great opportunity to reject corporations and chains that don’t display loyalty to the communities where they are located.
“It’s time to speak out as American consumers with a conscience,” she said.
The council’s ability to weigh in on the mall issue is in question. Mayor Randy Vanderhurst started the meeting by telling the crowd that the council’s hands are all but tied since the property was annexed and zoned in 1979.
However, Town Attorney Tom Emerson said he takes a “strong position” that the town government may actually hold broader powers of review. One key issue may be ruling on the mall’s compatibility with the neighborhood, he said.
The depth of the council’s role will be hashed out in future meetings, after the developers submit a complete application.
Mall opponents received an outwardly hostile greeting from Councilman Andy Montoya. He scolded Mountain Folks for Global Justice members and other town residents for allegedly digging to discover the identities of prospective retail tenants of the mall and lobbying them to stay out of town.
“That’s unethical and I don’t think it speaks well of the people of Carbondale,” Montoya said.
Midvalley resident Jamie Gomer countered that opponents were doing the businesses a favor.
“There’s nothing unethical about letting businesses know they’re not wanted here,” Gomer said.
Montoya also elicited chuckles and hoots from the crowd when he asked if Mountain Folks, a counter-culture kind of group, was receiving donations from other developers in the valley.
Group co-founder Mike Chamness answered that no such funding exists. Instead the grassroots group relies on small personal donations and proceeds from “bake sales.”
It’s relying on a bargain rate from attorney Smith and populist appeal with Carbondalians in its effort to fight the mall.
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In the 1960s The Red Onion as the Aspen Ski Club would host an annual ski fashion preview, which in addition to clothing also included live music and a strip auction.