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Mayor helps turn tide on Highway 82 rezoning

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

When the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) recently voted to deny a plan to rezone some 43 acres of vacant land between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, the rejection was not for lack of arguments on the project’s behalf by Commission Chair John Martin.

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The denial was aided, however, by testimony from Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot and representatives of Glenwood Springs, who asked the BOCC to reject the rezoning application on a variety of grounds.

On April 18, the BOCC voted 2-1, with Martin on the losing end, to deny a rezoning application that would have created a 43-acre commercial zone, with capacity for nearly 982,000 square feet of commercial or retail space situated roughly halfway between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

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The rezoning was sought by the owners of the overall River Edge residential and commercial project — Carbondale Investments LLC and its subsidiary, Garfield County Commercial Investment LLC.

At the end of a two-hour hearing, Martin declared somewhat angrily that the two towns had been making the same arguments for nearly two decades against development of what is now known as River Edge (previously called Sanders Ranch and Cattle Creek Crossing, among other names), namely that a big commercial center halfway between the two towns would cause economic harm to both communities.

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Martin pointed derisively to Carbondale’s rejection of a big-box commercial project within its own borders (the Crystal River Marketplace and its successor developments), and complained that neither town bothered to consult with county officials concerning developments within the towns’ borders over the past 20 years, which he apparently felt was an affront to the county.

“I think we need to take care of the entire county and not always just the municipalities,” Martin stated at one point, maintaining that large commercial projects were needed in order to make up for expected loses in county revenues due to the winding-down of gas and oil drilling projects in the western end of the county.

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Both the county planning department and the county planning and zoning commission recommended denial of the application, citing a lack of evidence that this amount of commercial space is needed, a conclusion that the rezoning was not in keeping with the county’s comprehensive land-use plan, and concern that such a commercial center would entice existing businesses, currently found within nearby towns, to relocate to River Edge, thereby cutting into the sales tax revenues of the towns.

Officials from both Carbondale and Glenwood Springs spoke against the rezoning application, largely on the grounds that it offered very little in the way of details about what the ultimate commercial center would contain, as well as the potential for the center to increase already troublesome sales-tax “leakage” caused by town residents shopping at stores outside the town boundaries.

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Bernot pointed out that Carbondale recently approved an application to build a new, much larger City Market grocery store and other retail outlets, as well as adopting a new comprehensive plan and Unified Development Code largely intended to streamline review of commercial projects.

She also expressed skepticism about the developer’s references to the Willits retail center in Basalt and the Glenwood Meadows center in Glenwood Springs as examples of positive, large-scale commercial development.

“Ask Basalt’s downtown how they’re doing, how they’re loving Willits now,” Bernot suggested to the BOCC, referring to commonly held beliefs that the shopping-center project had drained retail vitality from the downtown area.

Despite Martin’s bristly denunciation of the town’s positions, the other two members of the BOCC — Tom Jankovsky and Mike Samson — indicated they were convinced by the towns’ representatives that if the rezoning were allowed, and a large-scale commercial center were created halfway between the two towns, the result likely would be financial harm to both towns.

Carbondale officials indicated that the rezoning, or some other development-related application, probably will be back before the county in the future.

Published in The Sopris Sun on April 28, 2016.

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