Carbondale candidates ‘debate’ issues
March 11, 2014
It almost wasn't a race.
Monday's Carbondale trustee candidate forum probably wouldn't have drawn a crowd if Alexander (AJ) Hobbs hadn't submitted his paperwork on the last possible day. With three open seats, it would have looked a lot like 2010's uncontested election.
Instead, the addition of a fourth candidate means that somebody will not get a seat. The stakes aren't as high as 2012 — when 10 people vied for three vacancies — but it was enough to make the forum lively.
Trustee hopefuls Katrina Byars, Hobbs, Wayne Horak and Frosty Merriott, as well uncontested incumbent mayor Stacey Bernot, participated.
The decision of what to do with the old library space, which will likely be one of the first decisions made by the new board in April, was a little contentious.
Candidates were given the opportunity to respond to community-submitted questions. All four candidates agreed on most points. Carbondale's reputation as unfriendly to development was among the topics discussed.
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While all four contenders agree that the town was not, as some have claimed, "closed for business," there was a general consensus that more could be done to encourage it.
Merriott, who is the sole incumbent trustee candidate, cited sales tax revenue as the No. 1 issue facing trustees, but he said he felt that the new green code and development codes represent major progress in encouraging responsible development.
"I think we've tried to get some ducks in a row to dictate how economic development happens in Carbondale," he said. "Developers didn't know what to expect when they come into the community; now they will know what to expect."
Hobbs, meanwhile, felt that the town's cautious growth policy was an asset.
"We are still maintaining our character, culture and lifestyle here in Carbondale," he said. "As the world and nation gets more and more developed, places like Carbondale get more and more desired."
Horak was a little less optimistic.
"I believe we could do more to foster business here," he said. "I met with some of the downtown business owners, and they're struggling a little bit. Improving the grocery store would keep some people shopping in Carbondale as opposed to going to Basalt or Glenwood. RVR is only halfway built out. Eventually we're going to have to build a new grocery store."
New grocery store
The question of a new City Market has a long history in Carbondale. The town has twice voted down development proposals in a large parcel adjacent to Highway 133, a move that has been both favorably and negatively compared to Basalt's approach to Willits.
Merriott, who was in office during the most recent referendum, agreed with the need but defended the community's stance on the last proposal. He cited the plan's inclusion of a gas station and fast food restaurant, which he felt "would have been the end of Dos [Gringos] or the [Red Rock] Diner."
Byars emphasized the value of smaller outlets as well as a chain supermarket.
"If a new grocery store is necessary to our future we should hold it to the highest possible standard and make sure it doesn't hurt our small businesses. We don't want to lose the Carbondale Food Co-op because we have a big fancy City Market," she said.
Hobbs who serves as treasurer for the Food Co-op, agreed.
"If we do allow it, it needs to be done very responsibly. We need to support the local farming and local resources we have here," he said.
As for the related question of how to minimize the impacts of upcoming Highway 133 construction, the consensus was communication.
"I believe the town needs to make sure that there's good signage and that the construction companies are doing all they can to keep those businesses in operation," Horak said.
Byars went a step further.
"I think when life gives you lemons you should make lemonade," she said. "We are changing traffic patterns, and we can think creatively about the way we move them."
Merriott, meanwhile, expects the project to have less impact than people fear.
"CDOT has experience with this, and they're vested in this," he said. "They really want this to work so they can brag about it all over the country."
He also spoke to the lack of improvements to the intersection of Highway 133 and Dolores Way.
"The board and the town recognizes this is a problem. It is an issue, and it is on CDOT's long range plan, and we'll continue to wear on CDOT to fix this as a long-range issue."
Hobbs added that the troubles with Satank's main access are just the beginning.
"As time goes on, we're only going to have more and more of these."
When it came to the Thompson Divide, all four candidates stood behind the town's stance against drilling in the region
Byars, in particular, called it "the top issue" facing Carbondale.
The decision of what to do with the old library space, which will likely be one of the first decisions made by the new board in April, was a little more contentious.
Byars and Hobbs felt it was important to find a use that would serve the whole community, while Horak saw it as a different kind of asset.
"We need to review the RFPs, pick something, and get it in there quick," he said. "That building has been vacant for almost a year, and we need to get the revenue coming in. We could always raze the building and put in parking."
Each candidate made both an opening and closing statement.
Merriot used his closing to finish his truncated opening. "I challenge you to find anyone in this town or community that loves it as much as I do," he told the crowd. "We have an identity Basalt would die for."
Byars echoed his sentiment. "I live exactly where I want to live on this planet, and I can't think of a higher quality of life," she said.
Hobbs was more specific about his candidacy. "I would label myself as an idealist," he said in his opening. "A lot of people see that as a naive perspective, but I see no reason to not strive for the best."
Horak struck a pragmatic tone. "I actually don't want to run for trustee," he said in his introduction. "But after observing some decisions in the past, I feel obligated to help put Carbondale on the right path."
Mail in ballots go out this week and are due on or before April 1.
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