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Trustees vote to accept Surls sculpture, a few locals object

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Mayor admits process was flawed

By John Colson

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Sopris Sun Correspondent

The Carbondale Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved an agreement to accept a large sculpture, titled “Sewing The Future,” from internationally renowned artist James Surls, to be the centerpiece of a new traffic roundabout now under construction at the intersection of Main Street and Highway 133.

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The decision, passed by a vote of 6-1 with Trustee Pam Zentmyer dissenting, overrode objections from local residents who argued that the year-long selection process leading to the agreement was flawed and did not involve adequate citizen participation.

“I think,” declared long-time local resident Russell Hedman, “the whole thing was rammed down our throats. I think it was a corrupt process, and I’m not the only one in town who feels that.”

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Mayor Stacey Bernot conceded that a public comment meeting, planned by the trustees last year, was not properly advertised and failed to generate much participation.

But, she added, “It was never the board’s intent to shut out the public from this process.” She said time was short due to tight design requirements from the state highway engineers, and the town was unsure how to solicit other proposals for artwork in the roundabout.

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“I totally take responsibility for not having an in-your-face process like the town has become used to,” she told Hedman, but disagreed that the process was corrupt. Since the piece was unveiled earlier this year, there have been letters to the editor in local newspapers, and comments at public meetings, by those unhappy with either the design or the process.

The piece, which is a modern sculpture featuring Surls’ symbolic interpretation of attributes representing Carbondale’s history, culture and future, has been the subject of debate for several years, beginning during the contentious battle in 2012 over the proposed Village at Crystal River shopping center along the west side of Highway 133.

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Philanthropist Jim Calaway of Carbondale, a long-time friend of Surls, had proposed a Surls sculpture for a roundabout planned for one of the shopping center’s entrances off Highway 133.

But when the VCR proposal was turned down by voters, the roundabout proposal and the Surls sculpture became moot.

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The sculpture idea resurfaced more than a year ago, at approximately the same time that the town approved a plan, also put forward by Calaway, to establish a James Surls art center in the old Gordon Cooper Library building on Fourth Street.

The museum idea was withdrawn, but at the same time the town had begun preparations for construction of the roundabout at Main Street and the highway, and the board of trustees was considering proposals for some kind of artwork in the center of the roundabout.

The Surls piece, which is valued in the neighborhood of $350,000, was selected by the trustees in July, 2013, in the process that Hedman found objectionable. A fund raising campaign is underway to raise the $200,000 to pay for the materials, and Surls is donating his labor.

Zentmyer’s solitary dissenting vote on accepting the Surls agreement was largely based on her belief that the trustees needed to specifically and formally include language in the agreement giving the town the right to sell the piece, at some future date, and keep the proceeds of the sale.

“I think we need to be smart about what our options are should we need to get rid of it,” Zentmyer told her fellow trustees. She stressed that she was not advocating any such action by the town at this point, but predicted that such an action could be needed at some future time.

As adopted, the agreement does not mention a potential sale of the piece, but does include a provision for returning the artwork to Surls, if the town chooses to remove it from the roundabout and if Surls agrees to take it back.

In other action on Tuesday, the trustees:

• Approved a liquor license transfer for Main Street Liquors, 389 Main St. in Carbondale, to new owner Mary Bos, who is renaming the business as Mary’s Main Street Liquors.

• Granted special event liquor licenses to impresario Josh Behrman, for live music events to be held at PAC3 in the Third Street Center on July 24 and on Aug. 15, under the name Music For The Mountains.

• Issued a medical marijuana business license renewal for CMED LLC, at 615 Buggy Circle in Carbondale, as well as a special use permit for medical marijuana cultivation at the same site. Both approvals carry conditions that will be reviewed for final approval at a future meeting. Retail marijuana licenses for the same business, which also were on Tuesday’s agenda, were postponed until Aug. 12.

• Failed to pass an emergency ordinance requiring a minimum of 15 percent local ownership in medical marijuana or retail marijuana businesses in Carbondale. The ordinance was approved by a vote of 4-2 but failed to meet the required “supermajority” of at least five votes in favor, needed for passage of an emergency ordinance.

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