Crystal River Marketplace goes shopping for public vote
Crystal River Marketplace is back on the table, and it looks like voters in Carbondale will wield the knives and forks to decide its fate.Developer Brian Huster asked the Carbondale Board of Trustees Monday to put final approval of his shopping center on the November ballot. Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig speculated that Huster prefers a ballot question over a possible ballot initiative from Marketplace opponents. “It’s my understanding this request by the applicant is pre-emptive in nature,” said Hassig at Monday night’s meeting. Hassig was referring to citizen-instigated initiatives in recent years that shot down the Bair Ranch housing project, and upheld the River Valley Ranch golf course community by a 50-vote margin.After more than two hours of discussion, which included comments from the Mountain Folks for Global Justice citizens group, the trustees instructed staff to start drafting language to put Crystal River Marketplace approval on the November ballot.Crystal River Marketplace has been on and off the table like a food fight for 22 months. The first version included a village concept with clustered stores, a 12-screen movie theater, free space for a Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities art center and housing.Protests from the Mountain Folks and others eventually forced Huster to withdraw his original preliminary plat application.Late last year, Huster presented a new Crystal River Marketplace with 252,000 square feet of commercial space on the 24-acre site. The plan called for a 125,000-square-foot site for a big-box retailer, 58,000 square feet for a grocery store and smaller building lots.Marketplace opponents objected to the second proposal’s big-box component and its impacts to Highway 133. Carbondale’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved the preliminary plat 3-2 in June, but attached 39 conditions. One of those conditions gave the town the right to veto the largest tenants.Days after the Marketplace made it out of P&Z and the final plat was headed to the Board of Trustees, Huster pulled the application. Among the reasons for Huster’s withdrawal, cited in a letter to the town, were the feelings that “conditions imposed on the project render it practically and financially unable to build” and that the town was “hopelessly divided on this subject.”Neither Huster nor his attorneys spoke at Monday night’s meeting, but town manager John Hier presented a memo that outlined major issues and steps that must be completed for the Marketplace to move forward.Those steps include the developer creating a metropolitan improvement district, which would consist of the Marketplace property, to fund improvements to Highway 133 and the highway’s Roaring Fork Bridge. The district would also have to hold a district-wide election regarding issuance of bonds.Hier said town staff is also researching the town’s involvement in Highway 133 and Roaring Fork Bridge widenings, which are estimated to cost $8 million to $9 million. To fund those improvements, the equivalent of a sales tax would be charged at Marketplace stores to help fund a $5 million bond.A special improvement district along Highway 133 might be established to help fund Highway 133 improvements, Hier’s memo also said.Huster resubmitted his final plat application Friday. Town Planner Mark Chain told the trustees it’s substantially the same as the one that was withdrawn in June.Plans on file at Town Hall still call for 252,000 square feet of retail space, including a 125,000-square-foot site for a big-box retailer.Chain outlined a final plat review schedule for trustees that starts Tuesday, Aug. 20, and may continue into October. The key date is Sept. 10, because the last day to file ballot questions with the Garfield County clerk and recorder is Sept. 11.A separate ballot question will address bonding for Highway 133 upgrades.More than a dozen Mountain Folks members attended Monday night’s meeting. Spokesman Bob Schultz said the town is standing its land use review process “on its ear,” and that the Mountain Folks have been looking for a win-win solution for the Crystal River Marketplace property.But now, he said, “We’re about to jump off a cliff again.”
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