By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
With repeated assurances that the action would not carry over to broader approvals or “entitlements” for this or other nearby development proposals, Carbondale’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday agreed to waive a Community Impact Assessment requirement for a planned new 58,000-square foot City Market grocery store, on land once tied to two failed, large-scale development proposals — the Village at Crystal River (VCR) and the Crystal River Market Place (CRMP).
The 7.8-acre project site, at the northwest corner of Main Street and Highway 133 on land once owned by the Colorado Rocky Mountain School, also would contain a gas station and a smaller retail building.
The grocery store is meant to replace the existing City Market store, which the owner, Kroger Corporation, called “outdated and dysfunctional” in a memo to the trustees.
Waiver of the Community Impact Assessment (CIA) was the first step in Kroger’s application process, which planner Janet Buck and other town officials said would include examination of many of the project-related impacts covered by the CIA.
Town staff recommended approval for the CIA waiver, which Buck reported would have included impact analysis for five main areas: the environment, traffic, municipal services, the community at large and the fiscal effect on town finances.
Town Manager Jay Harrington told the trustees on Tuesday that the CIA process was created by “target legislation” during the controversial approval, and later rejection by voters in 2012, of the relatively massive VCR project. The VCR, if it had won voter approval, would have involved development of the entire 25-acre parcel that includes the piece being eyed by Kroger.
Harrington reported that the CIA probably will be eliminated from the town’s codes as part of an ongoing rewrite known as the Unified Development Code process.
Kroger plans to buy the project site from the current owners, Crystal River Marketplace LLC, and observers have expressed the hope that the application is a sign that Kroger has no intention of finding another building site, perhaps closer to Glenwood Springs, for its replacement-store project.
Town officials had reacted in alarm earlier this year when the Galloway planning firm, which handles development projects for Kroger, was involved in an application to Garfield County to rezone a 43-acre parcel of land near the intersection of Highway 82 and Cattle Creek Road, from residential to commercial status.
The application, which would have permitted a grocery store in any subsequent development, was withdrawn in early May.
The Carbondale relocation plan will follow the town’s traditional development review process, Buck wrote in her memo to the trustees, including subdivision and submission of a utility plan, a drainage plan, a traffic impact study and compliance with the town’s zoning laws for the commercial/retail/wholesale and planned-community-commercial zones that overlay the project site.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Trustee Pam Zentmyer asked Buck, “So, what kind of useful information would we be missing out on” if the waiver were approved.
Buck replied that there would not be much, although she noted, “There are intangibles in the CIA that does give the board more discretion” in negotiations with developers, such as certain design criteria that could make the project “look like a small mountain town.”
But the exemption is written into the town’s development review process for grocery stores, specifically, in large part because the fiscal impact is well known — the existing City Market is the town’s largest generator of sales tax revenues, which make up the bulk of the town’s annual income.
And, Buck stressed, Kroger still faces public hearings and other review requirements for full subdivision rights, a special use permit for the gas station, and a conditional use permit for the separate retail building.
When asked by Zentmyer why Kroger was seeking the exemption, the company’s assistant director of real estate, Joel Starbuck, replied that it was suggested by town staffers early in pre-application meetings, and conceded, “It saves us a good deal of time” in the review proceedings.
Trustee Frosty Merriott, who was an opponent of the two earlier development proposals for the larger site, remarked that he does not see much to fight about in this current application.
“I really want us to have cooperation here,” he said of the plan for a larger, more modern grocery store. “I feel like, if there’s something I want to fight about, it’s not this (the exemption).”
Among the concerns expressed about the exemption, Trustee A.J. Hobbs wondered about Kroger’s commitment to honor Carbondale’s emphasis on energy-efficient, green buildings in its commercial zones.
Carl Schmidtlein, a principal with the Galloway planning group, replied that Kroger is “very risk averse” and would be striving to meet or exceed the town’s requirements in this arena.
Mayor Stacey Bernot commented that she believes Kroger will be a good partner in the development process, which stands to benefit the town as well as the company, and said she feels that “this is not an overly phased project, [but is] one that we can appreciate on its merits,” compared to the earlier, failed development projects at the same site.
The waiver was approved unanimously by the trustees.
In other action the trustees:
• Approved a liquor license for the upcoming Mountain Fair, set for July 24-26 in Sopris Park.
• Accepted an audit of the towns finances for 2014, in which the auditors, McMahon and Associates, praised town finance director Renae Gustine and other staffers for their thorough, reliable work in handling the town’s finances.
• Approved a statement of conceptual support for a proposal to grant Wild & Scenic designation to 39 miles of the Crystal River, from its source to the diversion point for the Sweet Jessup ditch. The request came from a committee of activists working on the designation, made up of valley residents Dorothea Farris, Bill Jochems and Chuck Ogilby. Town staff will look over a proposed Act of Congress document to make sure it does not contain anything conflicting with Carbondale’s existing water uses and plans for future water uses linked to the Crystal River.
• Agreed to hire a traffic engineer to study circulation issues at the Cleveland Place affordable housing neighborhood, where residents have complained about traffic hazards related to narrow streets and an alleyway that attracts speeding cars.
Published in The Sopris Sun on June 25, 2015.