Developer breaks trustee deadlock over Village vote
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE, Colorado – Just as it seemed certain the Carbondale Trustees would never find a way out of deadlock over approvals for the Village at Crystal River (VCR), the developer himself got things going.
“I’m okay with going to a vote,” said Rich Schierburg at a trustees’ meeting on Tuesday, referring to a proposal that the project be put to the voters after gaining final approval from the town’s trustees.
Immediately afterward, Schierburg turned around in his chair and addressed the crowd of roughly 60 area residents, who were split between those supporting the project and those opposing it.
He thanks the project supporters and said, “I hope you keep the faith.”
Schierburg owns a 24-acre site west of Highway 133 and north of Main Street, where he hopes to build the VCR, a mixed-use commercial and residential proposal that has been through dozens of town meetings.
Plans to develop the parcel go back more than eight years, when then-developer Brian Huster’s proposal was approved by the board of trustees but then rejected by voters in a citizen-initiated election.
The proposal has undergone numerous mutations since the land was purchased by Schierburg. The latest proposal included a “public improvements fee,” known as a PIF.
The PIF, like a sales tax, would be assessed on all goods sold by stores in the shopping complex, including foods and medicines, which has fueled much of the opposition to the project.
The proceeds, under Schierburg’s plan, would be used to pay for roughly $2.3 million in improvements to Highway 133.
Many of those commenting on the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting referred to the PIF as a “subsidy” for Schierburg and a hardship for local residents already economically stressed by the recession.
Schierburg denied that the PIF would be a subsidy of the project. At one point he did say that without the PIF, the project would not be economically feasible due to the cost of the highway improvements.
Trustee Pam Zentmyer, following the public comments, noted that the PIF alone was enough to convince her to put the matter to a popular vote.
A split board
Twice during the special meeting Tuesday the trustees tried to move things along – once on a motion to approve the project, and later on a motion to put it to a popular election. But both efforts ended in tie votes among the six trustees present. Trustee John Foulkrod recused himself earlier due to a conflict of interest.
“This is about social justice, this is about economic justice for the town,” declared Trustee John Hoffmann, an opponent of the PIF and a proponent of putting the whole issue to a vote of the citizenry.
“If you want to get rid of that PIF, it [the project] will probably float, no problem, because that’s what’s sticking in everybody’s craw,” Hoffmann said to Schierburg.
Overall approval of the proposal evenly split the council, with trustees Hoffmann, Zentmyer and Frosty Merriott voting to put the matter to a popular election.
Mayor Stacey Bernot, with trustees Ed Cortez and Elizabeth Murphy, wanted to approve the project as proposed, and deal with a citizen-initiative election bid later, if it came up.
“I do not want to relive that,” said the mayor, referring to the 2003 election that overturned approvals for the VCR’s precursor, which was known as the Crystal River Marketplace.
Anyone circulating petitions to force an election, she said, “needs to understand that by doing that, they are dividing the community.”
Murphy called the meeting “a very exciting night for Carbondale,” with high citizen participation and lively debate.
But to her fellow trustees, playing off an earlier remark by long-time local businessman H.P. Hansen, Murphy said, “You have to have the stones [courage] to make the tough decisions.”
In the end, the trustees did both – approving the project, but leaving the ultimate approval or denial to the voters.
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