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Town Council says yes to Big Box vote

With a unanimous vote on Tuesday night, the Pagosa Springs Town Council passed the first reading of an ordinance that will allow voters in the town to decide how the town will regulate the development of large-scale retailers — so-called Big Box development.

Last summer, council passed Ordinance 743, which repealed section 2.4.5 of the Land Use and Development Code. Section 2.4.5 of the LUDC regulates large retail commercial development, stipulating design standards and impact studies for proposed developments over 50,000 square feet.

The matter of a referendum began in October when Matt Roane, Ann Bubb and Jaime and Mat deGraaf filed a lawsuit against the town attempting to force a referendum, putting the matter of Big Box regulation to the voters of Pagosa Springs.

In early November, the town and its attorney, Bob Cole, agreed to settle with the plaintiffs, allowing the petition process to move forward. On Nov. 30, Cole and the plaintiffs settled the lawsuit. In accordance with the terms of the agreement, complaints filed against the town, town council and the town clerk were dropped in their entirety on Dec. 2.

A petition was circulated in early December, resulting in more than 100 signatures supporting the referendum. Signatures on the petition were certified by town staff in late December.

Presenting the ordinance to council, Town Manager David Mitchem was clear about council’s intent last summer.

“There is no fiscal impact from this referendum,” Mitchem said. “It doesn’t cost any more, since the town is going to have an election that day anyway.”

On April 6, town voters will vote on three council seats (currently filled by council members Darrell Cotton, Don Volger and Mark Weiler), as well as for mayor.

“However, the financial impact on the town, should the voters overturn Ordinance 743, is immeasurable,” Mitchem continued. “A large-format retail store could mean as many as 200 jobs between the retailer and ancillary development. On top of that, the town stands to lose an additional $200 million in sales tax. On top of that, an additional $200 million in sales tax revenues for Archuleta County.”

In fact, language of the ordinance presentation largely addressed the matter of economic development and the potential impact of Big Box regulations. In the introduction, Mitchem stated that the town had been approached by a Big Box developer in early 2009 looking for a location to place a store.

“The message received by the developer is that our community is anti-business,” Mitchem’s presentation stated.

Furthermore, in the “Fiscal Impact” portion of the presentation, while stating that the election would result in no expense to the town, the section went onto state, “The outcome of the election may have a significant impact on the Town’s capacity to compete for new jobs and new development.”

Having stated his support for Ordinance 743, Mitchem concluded that, after the referendum passes a second reading and appropriate ballot language is determined, the town would not advocate one way or another in the referendum.

“The town will be happy to provide information to the voters but we will not take a stand on this issue,” he said.

With Mitchem’s presentation finished, Aragon called for input from the council. No discussion resulted. Likewise, a call from the mayor for public comments was met with silence. Calling for a vote, members of the council were unified in their approval of the referendum.

Council’s unanimous vote should be a clear signal that a second reading will be a mere formality and that the referendum will go before the voters in April.

Once the referendum passes a second reading of the ordinance (to be heard at the Jan. 21 mid-month meeting), the town will post a notice in the Jan. 28 edition of The SUN that will include language of the ordinance along with a date for a public hearing to discuss ballot language for the referendum. That public hearing will most likely be scheduled during the February 2 council meeting.

jim@pagosasun.com