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Town sets Wal-Mart work session

The Pagosa Springs Town Council is inviting residents of the community to attend a work session at the Ross Aragon Community Center on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, from 5-6:30 p.m. The workshop will deal with Wal-Mart’s proposal to locate a 93,000-square-foot store in the Aspen Village Commercial Development on the west end of Pagosa Springs.

The work session will give residents living both inside and outside town boundaries an opportunity to provide comments regarding the proposed store.

If a person intends to present comments, they are asked to plan on providing concise comments regarding their position, so that others might have the same time and opportunity to present their views.

Town Council will provide up to 45 minutes for opposition comments and 45 minutes for proponent comments.

Additionally, comment cards will be made available. The cards can be filled out and dropped off at the meeting. All comments received will be forwarded to Town Council. Town officials are urging all interested parties to attend, stating that input is valued and attendance is open to anyone.

Previously, the town had scheduled an open house on Feb. 16, with Wal-Mart representatives on hand to present various aspects of the proposed project. However, that open house was, strictly speaking, not a forum for public comment.

The previously proposed Wal-Mart open house has been postponed and, as of press time Wednesday, no alternate date has been set.

As reported in the Jan. 26 edition of The SUN, the town had proposed the open house format as a means to satisfy the desire of both opponents and supporters of Wal-Mart to speak out on the issue.

Public comment was not allowed during the Jan. 3 council meeting when Wal-Mart representative Josh Phair presented his company’s intentions to locate a 93,000-square-foot store in town.

“We will not entertain public comment,” Mayor Ross Aragon told a packed room during the Jan. 3 meeting. “We will instead utilize a diplomatic option establishing civil organization and protocol in a public forum setting at the community center.”

“We do and will commit to public discussions,” Phair told the audience during his Jan. 3 announcement. “We do see this just simply as the beginning of a long dialog with the Town of Pagosa Springs and the public at large, public discussions.”

Nevertheless, despite claims by town staff that an open house format was “the preferred structure” of a public forum in conversations with “several” area residents, that format drew criticism from both sides of the issue as an inadequate forum for citizen input.

When explaining the open house format for The SUN’s Jan. 26 article, Phair said that booths would be set up throughout the community center, largely dealing with construction and design aspects of the proposed project (including civil engineering, site development, landscape architecture, traffic/parking and improvements to U.S. 160). Phair also said at that time, “I’ll be there for any questions that might come up about store operations or hiring, should they come up.”

Nevertheless, many area residents complained that the open house format was little more than a public relations opportunity for Wal-Mart and provided little to further community dialog over the issue.

Last week, Pagosa First (a grassroots organization opposing Wal-Mart in town) announced their intention to protest outside the community center during the open house.

It is unknown if town officials got wind of the planned protest. All that is known is that the decision to change formats was made suddenly — just prior to the February Town Council meeting on Tuesday — just nine days before the planned Wal-Mart open house.

Nevertheless, it seems town officials have changed its mind twice in the same week (see related article), both times deferring to public pressure that appears to be growing louder and more insistent.

jim@pagosasun.com

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