Politics worrying Carbondale developer | AspenTimes.com

Politics worrying Carbondale developer

John StroudGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – Now that the planned Village at Crystal River commercial center has a favorable recommendation from Carbondale’s planning commission, the developer is looking for some assurance that politics won’t get in the way of final approvals for the project.The plan by Crystal River Marketplace LLC for a mixed-use commercial/residential development on the 24-acre site along Highway 133 that was once proposed for a big box retailer now goes to the Carbondale Board of Trustees for consideration.Carbondale Planning & Zoning Commission voted 5-2 Dec. 10 to recommend approval of the plan for a 125,000 square-foot commercial center, including a 60,000 square-foot grocery store, and 268 multi-family residential units.The plan is scaled back somewhat from a 2003 plan that called for a total of 250,000 square feet of commercial space, including a 125,000 square-foot big box retail anchor. That plan was shot down in a public referendum election after the town board voted to approve it.However, Village at Crystal River developer Rich Schierburg indicated in a recent letter to town officials that he’s worried the process, which began with a mediated pre-application planning process involving town officials and citizens more than four years ago, may again get bogged down in politics.”I am concerned about how long the process is taking,” he wrote. “I am also concerned about the possibility that the project may not receive approval until after the current Board of Trustees term ends.”Four town board seats, including that of Mayor Michael Hassig who is up against a term limit and cannot run again, will be decided in the April 6, 2010, municipal election. Seats held by Trustees John Foulkrod, Stacey Patch Bernot and Frosty Merriott are also up for election.Schierburg noted that he submitted his Planned Unit Development (PUD) application in June 2008 following that pre-planning process, and that P&Z hearings did not commence until this past April. The P&Z forwarded its recommendation to the trustees after nine meetings.He said he also believes the same town board members who helped start the process that led to the development plan he proposed should be the ones to finally decide on it.”It is in the best interest of the town and the development that the trustees who gave direction to the town staff and myself to proceed with a lengthy and expensive application are the same trustees who ultimately vote on the project,” Schierburg wrote.He acknowledged that the makeup of the board has already changed since those discussions began.But with Schierburg’s and several other major development proposals still on the town board’s plate for consideration after the first of the year – including the Re-1 School District’s teacher housing project and the Overlook Neighborhood – the schedule for the first three months of the year is already pretty full.Town planner Doug Dotson this week presented a tentative meeting schedule that has the public hearing for the Village at Crystal River scheduled for three meetings before the April election, beginning on Feb. 9.Mayor Hassig said their are no special accommodations being given for anyone, but the board understands the work it has ahead of it in the coming months.”There is a fair amount of land-use work to be done, and it’s going to take time,” he said. “We might as well apply ourselves to it.”That may mean scheduling some meetings that are solely devoted to specific projects, something the board has already done several times with both the Overlook and the Thompson Park annexation and zoning proposal – which won a preliminary OK from trustees last week.”These special purpose meetings can be much more productive, and I will probably push for that,” Hassig said. “I don’t think we gain anything, or get a better outcome, if the board review stretches over six months.”Whether election politics will come into play in the meantime remains to be seen, he said.”February and March can be silly season [in an election year], with a lot of political posturing,” he added. “Who knows who’s going to come out of the woodwork and what their agenda will be.”jstroud@postindependent.com