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Trustees discuss fate of aging shopping center

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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Local government agencies may soon move to acquire and redevelop a small, 50-year-old shopping plaza that sits at the northern edge of Carbondale, and that long has been viewed as an eyesore by some or a historical bit of “messy vitality” by others.

Carbondale’s Board of Trustees talked over a broad array of topics Tuesday night at a work session, ranging from ideas about what to do concerning the dilapidated wood-shell shopping center on Highway 133, to questions about regional efforts to create workforce housing and an action plan for the advisory Environmental Board in the coming year.

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Because it was a work session and not a regular meeting, no formal decisions could be made that night.

But the trustees informally agreed that it is time for the town to get involved in the possible fate of the small shopping center at 522 Highway 133, between La Fontana Plaza and the intersection of the highway with the Rio Grande Trail.

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Comprising several small shops under one roof, facing a gravel parking lot and the highway, the structure was built 1965, and is owned by Donna Burkett, a woman in her 80s who lives on Cattle Creek Road between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

According to documents provided at the trustee meeting, the building has been subject to numerous complaints about such things as leaking roofs, raw sewage flowing in the crawl space beneath stores, trash left uncollected for periods of time and other matters.

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The building’s current value, according to information from the Garfield County assessor, is about $400,000, and roughly two-thirds of the land under the building is actually part of the federal-grant right-of-way for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad tracks issued by the federal government in the 1800s.

Thus, according to officials with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), the public entity that owns the trail right-of-way from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, a considerable portion of the building actually is on public land.

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“It may be a property that the town and RFTA could partner on, to acquire it,” said Carbondale Town Manager Jay Harrington at the trustee meeting, referring to the one-third portion that remains privately owned, though he and others stressed that no one has yet approached the owner of the shopping center.

One possible outcome of such a partnership, according to Harrington, is to redevelop the parcel as a kind of gateway to the trail.

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Ultimately, officials say, the property could be an enhancement for the Rio Grande Art Way that is being planned by RFTA, the town and the Carbondale Arts (CA, former CCAH) organization, to dress up the trail as it runs through Carbondale with artistic embellishments and sculptures.

Amy Kimberly, executive director of the CA, told the trustees that the arts group is seeking grants to help pay the costs associated with the Art Way project, and that some $70,000 might be available to help with any purchase of the commercial building.

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“I’d be all for trying to acquire this and trying to work it out as a trailhead,” said Trustee Frosty Merriott.

But Trustee Ben Bohmfalk appeared more cautious about the idea.

Bohmfalk noted that the acquisition of this property has not been “on anybody’s wish list” in the past, and wondered where the town might come up with the money during a time of tight budgets.

“It’s not something that’s, kind of, emerged as a critical need in our community,” Bohmfalk remarked.

“I support it, but I think it’s going to be hard to say it’s our top priority.”

The trustees directed Harrington and the town’s staff to get more information about the proposal and return at a future meeting for further discussion.

Also at the meeting the trustees agreed to appoint Trustee Heather Henry as the board’s liaison to a new work-force-housing effort, spearheaded by retired civic planner Bill Lamont and attorney Dave Myler (both acting as citizens), who have proposed creating one or more regional housing authorities to tackle the persistently difficult matter of building or obtaining affordable housing for area workers.

Lamont and Myler told the trustees that they had been in talks with government staffers about the idea, and that the Carbondale board was the first elected body they had met with in their effort to find a new approach to an old problem in the Roaring Fork Valley.

As proposed, Lamont and Myler said the authority or authorities could have taxing and other financing capabilities (depending on voter approvals), and their boundaries could encompass several jurisdictions (towns, parts of counties) where land might be cheaper than in the towns themselves.

The trustees also directed members of the Environmental Board to gather more information about several specific tasks the E-board (as it is known) hopes to accomplish in 2017.

The list of projects, as drawn at the meeting, includes:

• an expansion of the town’s ban on plastic shopping bags to cover all businesses, instead of just City Market as it now stands;

• possibly banning or discouraging the sale of single-use plastic water bottles, which are widely accepted to be environmentally damaging;

• adopting a “zero-waste” management system for town-owned buildings and facilities to “set a good example” for waste reduction efforts community-wide;

• and possibly establishing an “environmental charter” to drive the town’s future efforts to make Carbondale a more environmentally sustainable community.

The E-board is a seven-member advisory board that comes up with recommendations for the trustees in the area of environmental sustainability, increasing reliance on renewable energy rather than petroleum-based energy and other matters.

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