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Perspective for the blame game

Who was he?

Or she?

The last person who moved here to provide the population numbers a big box operation like Wal-Mart considers adequate for construction and operation of a store?

After all, if so many of us are going to play the blame game when it comes to the possibility a big box might set up shop here, we need to look at the root causes, don’t we?

Population comes first.

Wal-Mart is not thinking about a store in South Fork or Creede. The company sees a viable market here, and that means customer numbers. Those numbers include everyone who has moved here in the last half century. The changes in Pagosa Country during that time mirror those in much of Colorado and the West. People moved here because of the natural beauty, because of the lifestyle; in doing so, they changed the place.

Like it or not, every person who relocates here alters the place, and not always for the better. We see that quite clearly as we deal with the big box predicament. To avoid this, to not consider it before we deal with other factors, is a mistake. The same situation will drive other, perhaps equally controversial changes in the future.

Today’s market numbers can be traced in large part to changes on the scene some 40 years ago — in particular, the development of large subdivisions to the west of town by Navajo Trail, Eaton International and Fairfield. With lots numbering in the thousands, the die was cast. Those developments were approved by the county, not the town.

The shift of the population and commercial center of the community was assured with approval of those developments and the trend has continued since. It is a trend that would have continued if property owners to the west had not petitioned the town for annexations, if a proposed incorporated municipality in the Pagosa Lakes area had succeeded, or if the area had remained part of unincorporated Archuleta County. Population demanded it.

One major commercial shift involved development on U.S. 160 near Piedra Road and on North Pagosa Boulevard. Another occurred when Tom Grant and company developed the Pagosa Country Center complex. Its creation provided for increased erosion of the downtown small business community and that pressure has continued to this day (witness the abandonment of the downtown City Market and Pagosa Plaza). Aspen Village was developed and has slowly included a number of business enterprises.

The failure of David Brown’s plans for downtown development and the fact nothing filled the vacuum left by that failure, further cemented the inevitability of the shift west and an expanding commercial zone there.

Want to assign blame? Focus first on population growth, then on democracy.

Design regulations were in place that could have prevented a big box from moving to town, or that would have slowed and controlled the move.

Residents in Pagosa Springs voted them out. There was nothing secret about it, nothing concealed.

True, it is not the democracy many want, but it is the democracy that statute allows. It is the democracy that exists in every county in Colorado, save those that meld county and municipality. It is the democracy that would have existed in an incorporated municipality in the Pagosa Lakes area were it dealing with the situation now — one that would deny voters in town and unincorporated county a vote on municipal matters.

The stage was set long ago. It should come as no surprise a big player is eager to take to it. The question is how to deal with what comes, since the stage is likely to grow larger.

Karl Isberg

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