Carbondale officials dealing with major issues in 2014
New zoning code, marijuana, possible tax hikes, Highway 133
(Editor’s note: Carbondale and Carbondale Fire District officials have a lot on their respective plates this year, most of which directly affects the residents they serve. The Sopris Sun recently sat down with the officials individually and in groups. This is that they had to say in part one of a two part series).
By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Correspondent
SUN: What’s up with the Unified Development Code (drafting a new zoning code).
JANET BUCK (planning director): “We’re going full tilt into the code rewrite. You’ll see slow times and times for public comment and review. People really need to keep track of what’s going on. They can go to the UDC website (http://carbondaleudc.com/) and sign up for updates.”
STACEY BERNOT (mayor): “The consultant we’re using has initiated a great Internet interface that allows people to provide their feedback. The idea is to update our land use code that’s over 30 years old, and have it dovetail nicely with our newly approved comprehensive plan. Our hope is to have it streamlined and user friendly, so that it not only reflects what the community wants but everyone knows the lay of the land before they get in there.”
JAY HARRINGTON (town manager): “I think we’re looking at late summer or early fall for final adoption. That’s a major issue for us. For the town, it’s a big investment.”
ALLYN HARVEY (trustee): “We’re not really talking about rezoning residential areas, but I think there’s some commercial zoned districts that may see some changes.”
SUN: When will improvements begin on Highway 133?
HARRINGTON: “On Feb. 14 we go to bid. We’re hoping to have a contractor on board and start in April. It’s going to be a busy year working with both CDOT and the contractor. I think there are a lot of people that don’t understand the scale and scope of this project. I was speaking to a downtown business owner the other day that told me, ‘I’ve heard about it for years, is it really going to happen?’ Well ... yeah! We’re pretty close. All that construction this fall wasn’t just to cut down some trees and leave the entry bare.”
BERNOT: “You can’t underscore enough the 20-year project for safety improvements to the main artery in our town. The main design is set. We’re just trying to foresee any potential challenges. The chamber of commerce has really stepped up to be the community partner to bridge the information gap with the business community.”
SUN: Are you anticipating traffic problems for the police?
GENE SCHILLING (police chief): “CDOT (the Colorado Department of Transportation) is in charge of the highway itself, but if the traffic control on 133 isn’t taken care of well, we’re going to have a lot of side street issues.”
SUN: Will recreational marijuana sales make much difference to the town’s finances?
BERNOT: “I think any new business that comes to Carbondale helps with our revenues, but it’s a little too early to tell if their business model is going to be viable. There’s a lot of interest in the product but I also know a lot of people in the community intend to grow their own.”
HARRINGTON: “When we calculate based on what we think we see off of medical marijuana, we get about $30,000 a year. That’s real money but it’s not gonna even cover the cost of one police officer.”
SUN: At one point we had more than 12 medical marijuana outlets in town. Are we likely to see something like that with recreational pot?
BERNOT: “Unless there’s a drastic change, we’ll probably have up to five over the next year and a half, and then see if market conditions change. We’re allowing for some of the free market forces to happen, but it’s staggered. If you’re currently not a medical marijuana provider you cannot submit your application (for recreational pot sales) until July, which is state law. If all three of our medical shops wanted to convert, come July you’d have the ability to add two more.”
HARRINGTON: “We don’t even have any pending applications (for recreational pot). There’s one that’s applied for a state license but they haven’t come to us yet. If you look at the regulatory environment, it’s really a tough business to get into. It’s not like there’s a big run on retail licenses right now. Right now there’s one here, one in Frisco, three in Telluride, and four or five in Steamboat.”
SUN: Do you anticipate less work on the part of police now that it’s a legal, or more due to misunderstandings of the law?
SCHILLING: “I think we’ll see more enforcement. There will be an educational period. We’ve had several people smoking in public and thinking it’s OK. The regulations don’t allow that. Also, we’ve seen a few issues with dispensaries and city regulations. I think this first one’s a learning curve. I think we’ll be able to tell the next person the applies some of the issues we had last time and ask them to address them.”
HARRINGTON: “So far, most issues have been minor. It’s gone better than expected. I think the big issue we’re going to have is the edibles. Those are the ones that kids and pets may not know about.”
SUN: What about driving under the influence?
SCHILLING: “They set a test limit on the state level, but the only way we can test it right now is blood. There are officers called ‘drug recognition experts’ and we’re in the process of trying to get someone certified to be able to detect any type of drug influence.”
SUN: Any word on construction of a new City Market on the Main Street Marketplace site (the west end of Main Street)?
HARRINGTON: “Kroger (City Market’s parent company) has inquired about our process, but we haven’t done a pre-application meeting or anything like that. They’re probably waiting to see how the highway turns out.”
SUN: What projects are the town working on?
HARRINGTON: “The bike park. Parks and rec. and the bike and ped. commission are working together to start the design and build process. There’s a grant involved, some locally raised money, and some modest town funding.”
SCHILLING: “We’re looking at some fuel efficient upgrades for our town hall car and our new police vehicle for the school resource officer. We’re looking at a Ford Fusion hybrid or possibly a Chevrolet Volt electric plug-in. Also, the (traffic) light at (Highway) 133 and Snowmass is supposed to go in this summer.”
HARRINGTON: “We’ll be excited not to be putting staff resources toward that (the traffic light location). Having code enforcement or uniformed police officers as crossing guards is not the highest and best use of those man or woman hours.”
SUN: Elections are coming up in April. Which seats are up?
BERNOT: “John Foulkrod is term limited (so he can’t run). Then it’s myself, Elizabeth Murphy, Frosty Merriott, with seats that are up for election. Allyn Harvey, Pam Zentmyer, and John Hoffmann stay.”
SUN: So you (Bernot) can run again?
SUN: Are you expecting a heavily contested race?
HARVEY: “We had 10 people running last time. I think the more the merrier. Hopefully people will step up.”
SUN: Anything you’d like to share about the process?
HARRINGTON: “We are anticipating a mailin ballot again. There have been some legislative issues over the last year, which has made that a little more complicated. The Garfield County Clerk will be helping coordinate our election because there are some technical issues. We’re really lucky that they’re going to step up and help us.”
BERNOT: “Our last five elections have been mail-ins, so if we were to revert back, I think it’d be confusing for a lot of people. They’re used to receiving their ballots in the mail.”
SUN: You can still drop your ballots off at the town hall on Election Day, right?
BERNOT: “Of course. That won’t change.”
SUN: There’s been talk of an energy tax. Are the trustees working on that?
BERNOT: “It’s really kind of a preliminary thing. I think the board will continue those conversations, looking toward more of a November question. It should bring forth a lot of the community dialogue on ‘is it an energy tax, is it something else?’ There are a few items that we need a dedicated funding source to achieve some of our goals.”
SUN: Based on 2013, how might we expect 2014 to shape up economically and in other areas?
HARRINGTON: “We had projected about a 2 percent sales tax (collection) increase in 2013. As we close out the year, we’re at a little over 2 maybe 2.3 (percent). How 2014 plays out, we’re not quite sure. We projected 2 percent again. We’re coming back in terms of our funding, but not very quickly. We’re making small steps.”BUCK: “In the years after 2008, the day-to-day (development) inquires fell off. Beginning in the middle of last year, they’ve really picked up. People are getting more creative with how they use their properties. I see momentum growing, though at a cautious pace. I think it’ll be a good year. We should see some good things happen — the UDC (Unified Development Code) and the highway improvements.”