No convincing need for Village at Crystal River |

No convincing need for Village at Crystal River

Ballots have arrived in Carbondale mailboxes asking voters to uphold or overturn the town government’s approval of the Village at Crystal River development.

It’s decision time for the old Bar Fork pasture.

We appreciate developer Rich Schierburg’s creative design for the 24-acre parcel and his attention to energy efficient buildings. We like mixed use development that combines retail, offices and loft-style apartments, and we believe master planning is essential for a parcel of this size.

And we applaud Schierburg for working with the Road Map Committee in an effort to design a mixed use project that could blend with Carbondale’s quirky character.

That said, we see no convincing need for the Village development, now or in the foreseeable future, and we believe it would introduce blight in the town’s existing commercial areas.

In addition, the 1 percent public improvements fee, to be levied on all sales by Village retailers for the next 20 or so years, boils down to a mechanism that forces customers to subsidize the cost of development.

For these reasons, we believe the Village at Crystal River proposal should be rejected by voters.

We acknowledge that this is a reversal of our opinion published last July. In the ensuing months, with new issues in play and an economy that still molders along, our pessimism outweighs our earlier enthusiasm.

Carbondale has too many empty storefronts, and we know of too many businesses struggling to stay afloat. The introduction of 140,000 square feet of new commercial space (granted, this would be built over time) seems like a recipe for creating blight in downtown and along the Highway 133 commercial strip.

Is a fancy new shopping center, even one that’s tastefully designed, valuable enough to balance out a proliferation of empty commercial spaces elsewhere? We think not.

A new City Market store is being held out as the leading justification for the Village. In fact, City Market could expand on its existing site, trading some parking for the added space needed to install the upscale grocery store features that shoppers want.

Finally, the 1 percent public improvements fee is a raw deal, particularly for low-income shoppers who spend a higher share of their income on food. If the developer needs more income to pay for highway frontage upgrades, he should collect it in rent from commercial tenants rather than sticking it to their customers.

The Village proposal originated during the extreme economic boom times that preceded the recession. We are in a new economy now, and few reasonable people expect we will see that prior level of economic activity or property value anytime in the next decade.

The Village may have made sense when Mr. Schierburg first embarked on this project, but it does not balance out now. A “no” vote is in order.

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