Carbondale's community connector

Too late for a moratorium on Highway 133?

Locations: Opinion Published

This rendering of 1201 Main St. portrays a new building currently under construction next to the roundabout. Courtesy image.The cover of the Sopris Sun last week along with the timely interviews of displaced small businesses at the Sopris Shopping Center in Carbondale touched my heart. Quite frankly, as a former Trustee for 10 years, it was quite upsetting. The actions by Stein Properties, LP make a mockery of maintaining the small-town character called for by our Comprehensive Plan. Of course, Town Government needs to belly up to the bar as well for their part in this outcome. Since I was there for so long, I take some responsibility as well. Actions like this should just never happen in Carbondale, not in the name of 15 affordable housing units. In case you have missed this, let me list for you the nine businesses which will be shut down at the Sopris Shopping Center, some temporarily but some for good: Ragged Mountain Sports, Sopris Laundry, Los Cabos Mexican Grill, JC’s Breakfast and Lunch, High Q, CV Phones, Ming’s Cafe, El Pollo Rico and Sopris CrossFit.
I hear the argument that we need more affordable housing but keep in mind that Carbondale’s current code calls for 20% of units to be “affordable,” so all the other 59 will then be market-driven. When there are about 500 applications for the latest affordable housing in Aspen and only about 20 units then we become a dog chasing its proverbial tail. Maybe we should have upped our affordable requirement to at least 30% if that is indeed what we are attempting to accomplish with our infill. Or maybe instead of building 60,000 square feet of climate controlled storage for out-of-towners, we could have 120,500 square feet of affordable housing units? Or maybe we should accept the fact that we can’t just build our way out of this.
To be clear, when I use the dreaded word “moratorium,” I do not mean anything that is already in the development pipeline. There should, however, be strong consideration for a targeted moratorium on Highway 133. It should be for a one-year period to let things like traffic, pollution, noise, dark skies and energy use — all indicators of our small-town character — play out. Carbondale needs to take a deep breath while we update all of our building codes and integrate our Climate Action Plan into the Unified Development Code (UDC). I mean, if Holy Cross should be at 100% renewables by 2030, so could we. Governor Polis has declared that Colorado will rely on 100% renewable energy by 2040. For Carbondale to continue to add to the building inventory that we must retrofit before 2030 is like the definition of insanity. You know, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If we can incorporate current codes into the UDC in six months, then the moratorium could be for a shorter period. The Trustees could add a meeting date to each month like we did when we were considering the new City Market. It is that important. If we can delay implementing our Climate Action Plan and updating codes for two years, can we pause development for a year? We need to fully understand all of the full impacts in the 133 corridor from existing approvals. I do not want people to turn around in one year and say, “Holy crap! What happened to our little town? I am moving to Satank!”
Make no mistake, Carbondale is in the crosshairs of developers right now: both commercial and residential. There is a mass exodus from the big cities and the desire to be digital nomads. There are between 40 and 50 residences in the pipeline at River Valley Ranch (RVR) right now and most are building to the 2012 green building code. These are mostly in the range of $1.5 to $2.0 million and do not even have a solar requirement unless they are 5,000 square feet or more. One of the new RVR residents even clear cut the riparian habitat adjacent to the Eagle Preserve so that they could see the Crystal River better. Unintended consequences from too much, too fast? You tell me.
There are around 400 residences in the pipeline for the rest of town, bragging about building to Carbondale’s green building code. Unfortunately, it was the 2012 green building code, not the 2018 code which came into effect in July of 2020. Moreover, the 2021 International Green Construction Code is due out in March. Green building is changing at warp speed — oh man, dilithium crystals would be a big help right now — and the energy code that we are currently building from is based on the International Energy Conservation Code from 2015, so it’s six years old. There is no reason that all this new development should not be building to more recent codes. Renewable requirements need to be updated, new buildings should be fully electrified — no natural gas lines —, electric vehicle charging stations should be required on certain sizes of buildings to encourage electric vehicles and lighting and energy upgrades need to be made.
I would be remiss if I did not also cover the Crystal River Market Place. I must admit complicity in this new City Market as I was a town trustee when it was approved unanimously. Judging from social media, it has been a disappointment to many in Carbondale. A positive coming from the City Market is that our sales tax collections are up significantly. There was promise of a “flagship store,” a real “mountain community grocer,” with lots of local beef and veggies, off-site solar and “way more energy efficient than our old store,” even though it is much larger. In short, we could all be proud of our new grocery store. Instead, the grand opening with the huge balloons at either end of the building — all the red, white and blue flags —, the LED outside lighting on 24 hours a day and the new service station that lights up the night skies … these were a real disconnect with the small-town character of Carbondale. This was nothing though compared to when I walked in and saw all the single-use plastic that Carbondale was endeavoring to reduce the use of. Carbondale had just hired a consultant to advise us on how to reduce the use of single-use plastic; plastic that is now not only poisoning the oceans but is being found in the bellies of our local wildlife. The fossil fuel companies are planning to make even more plastic as more electric cars and non-electric buildings are utilized.
We can do a targeted moratorium or relax and continue with the status quo. We can pretend all is well in our little valley and Carbondale. That is, until we see an 18-wheeler, a la “Yellowstone” with Kevin Costner, rolling through the roundabout carrying local ranchers’ beef from up 133 down to their winter pastures out on Catherine’s Store Road. That is when we will know that there is no longer any such thing as the “small-town character” of Carbondale.
Frosty Merriott is a CPA and has lived at RVR since 1998. He has served on the RVR Executive Board, Carbondale Chamber of Commerce Executive Board, the Environmental Board, the Town Planning and Zoning Commission and served 10 years as a town trustee. Frosty loves our small-town character and will continue to work to keep it.

Tags: #development #Environmental Board #Frosty Merriott #opinion
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