County rezoning application has trustees worried
Could lead to losing City Market?
By John Colson
Sopris Sun Correspondent
Carbondale officials expressed anxiety on Tuesday over plans concerning the proposed River Edge development project, halfway between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, where developers want to rezone part of the project site from residential to commercial in apparent hope of creating a commercial and retail hub at that location.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the board of trustees, it was clear that Carbondale’s elected leaders and others are worried that a planning firm that works with the City Market grocery store chain, which is owned by Kroger, is involved in the rezoning effort and may be paving the way for a new grocery store at River Edge, much larger and more modern than stores in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.
The firm, Galloway & Co. of Greenwood Village, Colorado, is listed as a “representative” for the owners of the River Edge project site.
Town Manager Jay Harrington told the trustees he had no indication from Galloway, City Market, or from the new owners of the Crystal Village Plaza on Highway 133, where Carbondale’s City Market is located, of any current plans to either close or relocate the Carbondale store, which generates the biggest portion of Carbondale’s annual sales tax revenues.
The plaza was purchased last year by the Kronke Group, a Missouri development company with ties to the Wal-Mart corporation.
City Market, the anchor tenant at the Crystal Village Plaza, had at one point indicated an interest in moving to a new building in the proposed Village at Crystal River shopping center, a development plan that was rejected by Carbondale voters twice over the past decade or so.
At Tuesday’s meeting, town planner Janet Buck noted that members of the town’s planning and zoning commission, which reviewed the River Edge rezoning proposal last week, had directed Buck to send a letter of opposition to the rezoning proposal on numerous grounds.
The letter, she told the trustees, was to state with “very strong, direct language” that Garfield County would be guilty of “poor planning” if it approved a rezoning concept that could cause problems for both Carbondale and Glenwood Springs by worsening an economic phenomenon that is known as leakage of sales tax revenues from one community to another.
But the trustees, wary of causing friction with the Garfield Board of County Commissioners, decided that Buck should write a single letter detailing the town’s position, rather than separate letters from the P&Z and the board of trustees.
“I would not accuse Garfield County of poor planning,” stated Trustee Allyn Harvey. “I just wouldn’t do it.”
Instead, he and other trustees reasoned, the letter from the town should focus on a belief that approval of the rezoning would represent a negation of the county’s own land-use planning, including provisions in the county’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan. To approve the rezoning, Harvey said of the letter’s message, would be “out of order with what you (the county commissioners) have envisioned for this area.”
The rezoning proposal for the River Edge parcel is seen as part of a broader effort to get something moving on a project that has been on the books for more than a decade and a half but has never gotten off the ground.
The property in question has been the subject of four different development plans since the late 1990s, including two versions of Sanders Ranch, one of which called for a large commercial component; Bair Chase, which had an 18-hole golf course; and, most recently, Cattle Creek Crossing, a primarily residential project.
The successive failures of the development plans have left the property with a dilapidated, scraped-over appearance where once there was a thriving ranching operation.
The project is now called River Edge, for which a preliminary plat and planned unit development (PUD) plan were approved by Garfield County in 2011. At that time the primary developer, Carbondale Investments LLC, proposed to use 160 acres of the larger 281-acre site for a mix of 366 single- and multi-family residential units.
But the documents now being reviewed by Carbondale, as a “referral” from the county planning department, involve a separate, 43.25-acre section of the larger site, where property owner Garfield County Commercial Investments LLC, a subsidiary of Carbondale Investments, apparently wants to build a general retail center of unknown size and density, purportedly to serve the needs of the new community.
According to diagrams provided to the town by Garfield County, the parcel is on the west side of the highway and sandwiched between Highway 82 and the Rio Grande Trail, between the two intersections at Cattle Creek Road (County Road 113) and Spring Valley Road (CR 114).
Carbondale Planner Janet Buck, in a memo to the trustees, noted that in 2011, the Carbondale P&Z expressed reservations about the need for the entire project over concerns it would create a brand new community in between the existing towns. In this week’s memo to the Carbondale Board of Trustees she stated that “this concern is now exacerbated” by the plans to include a retail center that could include light retail, manufacturing, equipment storage and other commercial businesses which could “go beyond serving the existing and potential residential units” being created by the project.
All of this, Buck noted, could result in a development that “could compete with existing municipalities” for retail customers and sales tax revenues.
GarCo comp plan
Buck also maintained that the River Edge rezoning request “does not appear to be in compliance with the Garfield County Comprehensive Plan,” because it does not meet the county’s own criteria for creating an “unincorporated community and rural employment center.”
Both Buck and Harrington pointed out that the referral documents contain no information about the size of the retail center envisioned by the developers, or about what anchor tenants may be waiting in the wings to occupy stores there.
“I can’t say it’s City Market, I can’t say it’s not,” Harrington told the trustees. “I can’t say it’s Wal-Mart, I can’t say its not.”
But if a big-box retail store does open there, Harrington continued, its sales tax rate could be roughly half the sales taxes imposed on retail sales in Carbondale, with savings that could entice shoppers to make the drive and save some money.
Mayor Stacey Bernot, agreeing that Carbondale needs to make its feelings known, also agreed that the communication should not be couched in “inflammatory language.”
“I am concerned with the tenor of what Planning and Zoning wanted to put in there,” she said of the letter mentioned by Buck.
Trustee Pam Zentmyer suggested the letter should point out that “there is not a lack of service, or an increase in population” that would merit the creation of a large commercial development at River Edge, and that the possibility exists that the development might get started but then fail, leaving an unsightly, half-built project that would be “even worse than what we already have there.”
At the end of the discussion, Harrington urged the trustees to contact him and Buck with ideas for inclusion in the letter, which must be delivered soon to the county in order to have any effect on the county’s review of the application.
Buck explained that the proposal must undergo review by the county’s planning staff, the county’s planning and zoning commission, and finally the county commissioners before a decision will be made on whether to approve or deny the application.