Election set for Carbondale’s Village at Crystal River | AspenTimes.com

Election set for Carbondale’s Village at Crystal River

John Colson
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – The “battle language” is set, and voters here have until Jan. 31 to decide whether they want to endorse or reject a plan to develop the controversial Village at Crystal River (VCR) project at the western edge of town.

Town Attorney Mark Hamilton, speaking to the board of trustees at a special meeting on Tuesday, was the official who referred to the ballot question as “battle … I mean, ballot language” as he talked about how the election is to be conducted.

The inadvertent remark drew a round of laughter from the trustees and an audience made up of citizens waiting to see how the matter would be decided.

The election concerns the trustees’ approval of the VCR development proposal on Nov. 1. The board of trustees was deadlocked at that meeting over whether to simply approve the project and wait to see if a citizen petition drive would force a public vote, or to approve it and refer it to the voters for their endorsement.

After more than four hours of testimony from citizens and debate among the trustees, the board voted 5-1 to approve the project but ask the voters for their endorsement of the approval.

The unanimous decision by the trustees at Tuesday’s meeting set both the date and the ballot language for the election, which will be mail-in only and will be conducted by the Garfield County Clerk’s office.

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The project, proposed for 24 acres west of Highway 133 and north of Main Street, has been a highly controversial topic for the past eight years, when a citizen initiative threw out an earlier approval of what was then known as the Crystal River Marketplace.

Its current form, proposed by Denver developer Rich Schierburg, calls for 125,000 square feet of retail space, anchored by a new 58,000-square-foot City Market grocery store, plus 15,000 square feet of office space and up to 164 residential units.

Other allowed commercial uses include a gas station, bank and fast-food restaurant. Later development phases, depending on market demand, could include a hotel, medical facility, senior care facility, school or light manufacturing.

A key factor in the decision to have the election conducted by Garfield County Clerk Jean Alberico was the fact that Alberico’s office is statutorily empowered to verify signatures on ballots, and disallow ballots found to be improperly voted.

Town Clerk Cathy Derby, according to Alberico, does not have that authority under provisions in Colorado election law.

Derby, Hamilton and Town Manager Jay Harrington all recommended that the balloting be done by mail, rather than a traditional polling-place election.

The question asks voters whether the town should approve the project, and lays out some of the details of the project as it is described in the ordinance passed by the town on Nov. 1.

Among other things, the question notes that the approval calls for phased development of up to 140,000 square feet of commercial buildings, and 164 multi-family residences, or “some combination thereof.”

The ballot language refers to plans for a new grocery store up to 60,000 square feet in size, with a 30,000-square-foot cap on the remaining commercial buildings, and to a controversial 1 percent public improvements fee to be assessed against sales within the project’s commercial establishments.

jcolson@postindependent.com