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Economic leakage claims contested by Locals group

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

CARBONDALE, Colorado – A key issue in the debate about the Village at Crystal River (VCR) is a contention by project proponents that Carbondale is “leaking” three-quarters of its sales tax revenues to neighboring towns. A new shopping center will help slow that leak, they say.

Citing studies done in 2005 and 2009 by Economic Planning Systems of Denver, the backers of the VCR have stated that 76 to 78 percent of the money spent by Carbondale households is spent outside of Carbondale.

Opponents of the project counter that the studies were flawed and should not be the basis for deciding whether to vote in favor of, or against, the VCR project.



The issue is the subject of a special election for voters in the town of Carbondale, who are being asked to uphold or overturn the town trustees’ conditional approval of the VCR project. Ballots are due Jan. 31.

The economic leakage figures stem from a 2005 study and a 2009 update by Economic Planning Systems, both conducted for the town of Carbondale and incorporated into the planning effort for the VCR project.



So far the only business with concrete plans to locate in the VCR is City Market.

But other retail business will be recruited, said developer Rich Schierburg at a Jan. 4 forum, and give shoppers more choices than they have now.

“We have never said that VCR will bring all types of consumer goods to reduce the exodus of retail dollars by Carbondale citizens to zero,” Schierburg said in an email sent to the Post Independent Tuesday.

“What we have always said is that it will reduce it from what it is now,” he continued. “How much will be determined by what users, tenants, etc., we will be able to attract.”

Shelle de Beque, a member of the opposition Locals for Smarter Growth group, said the studies are skewed because they include households throughout the entire 81623 ZIP code. In addition to the town of Carbondale, the 81623 ZIP includes the Crystal River Valley up to Marble, El Jebel and Missouri Heights.

“They included people who live in Sopris Village, and Blue Lake and Missouri Heights,” de Beque said. “It’s obviously more convenient for them to shop in El Jebel.”

And with or without the Village at Crystal River merchants, residents will still have to go to Glenwood Springs or beyond to buy big-ticket consumer items such as appliances.

There are other attractions for midvalley shopping dollars that will not be overcome by construction of the VCR, say opponents. These include the Costco store in Eagle County, the Whole Foods grocery store under construction in the Willits development near Basalt, and online shopping.

Carbondale’s sales tax leakage numbers and the Economic Planning Systems numbers in particular have been debated in other discussions about the town’s future, noted Ben Bohmfalk, chair of the Carbondale Planning and Zoning Commission and a member of the working group updating the town’s comprehensive plan.

“We looked at that and said it didn’t pass our gut-instinct test,” Bohmfalk said of the leakage estimates in the two studies.

The working group concluded “that a lot of the public would question it if we used that data to make decisions about the comp plan,” Bohmfalk said.

Instead, the group has asked the planning consultant working on the comp plan to look deeper into the underlying statistics to further refine the leakage numbers.

“I think it’s one of those things where it’s not as clear as either side wants it to be,” he said of the election-related debate about economic leakage. “Everybody has sales tax leakage. But, do we have too much? I don’t know.”

jcolson@postindependent.com


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