The third time around …
By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
The Carbondale Board of Trustees was expected on Wednesday night (after the Sopris Sun’s news deadline for this edition) to give the final approval to the subdivision and other actions granting development rights for the Carbondale Marketplace project.
While expected, the moment carries with it a certain amount of political drama, as it was the culmination of more than 16 years of debate, controversy and community turmoil concerning the development site — roughly 24 acres of ground formerly owned by Colorado Rocky Mountain School, to the north and west of the intersection of Main Street and Highway 133.
It was at that site that developers tried and failed to win approval for two prior development plans, the Crystal River Marketplace (CRMP) in 2003 and the Village at Crystal River (VCR) in 2012, two large development proposals, both of which were opposed by members of a group known as the Town Mothers.
The amorphous group, many of whom were and remain women active in other ways in town affairs, was formed to oppose a decision by the town trustees to grant approvals for CRMP, which represented a plan to build more than 125,000 square feet of commercial space, including a new grocery store and room for a “big box” retail establishment of some sort, some 15,000 feet of office space and up to 164 residential units.
The current project, by comparison, calls for a 59,000 square foot grocery store (contrasted with about 44,000 square feet in the old one). It also includes plans for a Starbucks coffee shop, about 7,000 square feet of retail space besides the grocery store, and a gas station adjacent to Highway 133.
After the trustees gave their approval to the CRMP project back in 2002, the Town Mothers and others in the community began agitating for an election to overturn the approval, and in 2003 voters did just that.
The same happened with the VCR — following approval of the project by the town board, the electorate voted to cancel that approval, although the Town Mothers as an entity did not play as public a role in that election fight.
The current project, however, involves a new development team headed by the Kroger grocery store chain, which owns the City Market stores in Colorado, and has not generated any real opposition among the town’s residents.
In interviews with The Sopris Sun, former members of the Town Mothers agreed with others that the scaled-back proposal is not a problem.
“I do think it’s really an acceptable plan,” said former Town Mother Shelle deBeque, 60 and a native of Carbondale. “It’s kind of like what the Town Mothers were asking for … something in the scope and size of Carbondale.”
Even the architecture, she said, was designed to blend in better with the town in general than that of the previous projects.
The new store is to be more efficiently laid out and more modern than the old store, and about 15,000 square feet larger than the old store, according to a presentation to the trustees by the Kroger’s planning consultants.
Regarding the Starbucks, deBeque said, “I would rather not see this there. I’d rather not have a big national chain in there,” out of concern that it might harm the business of the town’s existing crop of locally-owned coffee venues.
But, she noted, the developers clearly compromised in their plans, foregoing some aspects of their typical corporate development ideas in order to gain acceptance in Carbondale.
And, she said, “I’m willing to compromise.”
Another founding member of the Town Mothers, long-time local community activist Laurie Loeb, noted that the group was named as an ironic take-off on a traditionally accepted description of the town’s elected trustees, whom some refer to as “the town fathers.”
The goal of the Town Mothers, said Loeb, who is 75, was “to preserve the small-town feel and the character of our town … to prevent us from being molded into something we’re not … we are not a shopping mecca.”
With the current project, Loeb remarked, “It sounds like the developers have been sensitive … to the preferences of the town.”
Plus, she said, the builders of the Carbondale Marketplace have paid attention to details such as energy efficiency and architectural designs that blend with the town’s existing energy conservation goals and its overall streetscape.
Loeb commented that she, too, could have done without the Starbucks, noting “we’ve prided ourselves on not having chain stores here. Since we already have coffee shops, it (the Starbucks) is redundant and probably unnecessary.”
She wondered why an owner of an existing, locally owned coffee business was not asked to take on the space in the Carbondale Marketplace.
“It would have been more aligned with the Carbondale way of doing things,” she maintained.
She also questioned the need for another gas station in town, particularly given Carbondale’s reputation as a bike-friendly, pedestrian-oriented community, but noted that her feelings on that point are not as definite as about the coffee shop.
Following the expected approval of the Carbondale Marketplace subdivision and other permits, the project still will need to go through certain other processes before construction can begin, such as the building permit application.
Published in The Sopris Sun on March 17, 2016.