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The future of development

The downvalley towns will decide the fate this fall of three huge projects that promise to influence the way the Roaring Fork Valley develops – and shops – for years to come.

Although all eyes are turned toward a Nov. 7 election with substantial state and local implications, the lower-profile land-use reviews will probably play bigger roles in molding the valley.

The three projects – one each in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs – combine for over 2 million square feet of development, mostly commercial uses.

The developers of each of the projects are well aware that the others are looming. They are anxious to steer their projects through the government review process so they can be the first to break ground – and potentially grab a market advantage.

“If they all opened within a year, there’s no way you’d have enough people,” noted Carbondale Mayor Randy Vanderhurst.

Ironically, he said, people had complained for years in the midvalley that development of retail space and other commercial space hadn’t kept pace with the population boom. How times have changed.

“Not only has it followed, but it trampled over the top of residential,” Vanderhurst said.

The three projects garnering the most attention are Willits in Basalt, Crystal River Marketplace in Carbondale and Glenwood Meadows in West Glenwood Springs.

Willits had the distinction of being first at the starting gate, but little good that did. It is now entering its sixth year of review.

Michael Lipkin, one of the partners in the project, has constantly reminded Basalt Town Council members that the project will be less viable as time goes on and commercial projects are built in other parts of the valley. If the Willits commercial core falls flats, the town doesn’t cash in on sales tax revenues, he has argued.

The message may finally be sinking in. Council members acknowledge privately that competition to Willits is weighing on their minds. The board met in a closed session for three hours earlier in October to hash out positions for negotiations with Lipkin and his partners.

The developers have already received approvals for 423 single-family homes, townhouses and condominiums. They are still seeking final approval for a 456,000-square-foot commercial core that would feature retail, restaurant and office space with perhaps additional residential.

But the town government may still suffer from bureaucratic paralysis. The board had said in May that it planned to hand down a Willits decision on July 25. It will miss that self-imposed deadline by at least three months.

Government review is almost an non-existent concern for Dan O’Connell, a primary investor in the Crystal River Marketplace in Carbondale.

The property he bought from the Colorado Rocky Mountain School along Highway 133 has been zoned for commercial uses since 1979, according to town officials.

Mayor Vanderhurst said the Town Council can only review plans for parking, traffic flow, lighting and landscaping. It cannot reject the development plan.

O’Connell and his partner, Brian Huster, contemplate 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. While O’Connell said they believe they can draw customers from a 30-mile radius, they don’t see their project as a threat to Glenwood Springs as the regional shopping powerhouse.

“We’re looking not to duplicate but to bring new stores into the valley,” he said.

Their plan is to include a 12-screen movie theater and possibly a 10,000-square-foot, 400-seat performing arts center.

O’Connell hopes to come before the Carbondale Town Council within the next 90 days for review. Site work for the $45 million project could start as early as March 2001, and stores could open as soon as one year later, he said.

The quickest decision could come for Robert Macgregor and his Glenwood Land Co.’s review of their Glenwood Meadows project, scheduled to begin Oct. 25.

The project – which includes 600,000 square feet of retail space, 600,000 square feet of office space and 750 residences – has two strikes against it. Both the Glenwood city government planning office and the planning commission have recommended denial. However, the City Council has the final say.

Although it is a substantial development, density isn’t an issue, Macgregor argued, because it is spread over 360 acres.

Part of the proposal for retail space includes more of the auto-oriented, national discount stores that have made Glenwood a regional draw for shoppers from the Roaring Fork Valley and Interstate 70 corridor.

“You can choose to sustain that,” he said.

He should have his answer by the end of the month.


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