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BoCC supports town on Wal-Mart issue

With a 2-1 vote, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners decided to support the Town of Pagosa Springs in its efforts to bring a Wal-Mart to Pagosa Springs.

The vote, and a vote to quit-claim deed Alpha Road to the Town of Pagosa Springs (see related story) came at the end of a four-hour meeting Tuesday afternoon.

In a reversal from what the agenda stated, the Wal-Mart issue was considered first at the request of Michael Whiting, who later noted that a possible quit-claim deed for Alpha Road was a “tacit endorsement” of Wal-Mart, and a position on Wal-Mart should be considered first.

To begin the discussion with the commissioners, the BoCC flipped a coin to determine if Steve Wadley or Michael Whiting would speak first, with Wadley winning and deferring to Whiting.

In response to Chair Clifford Lucero’s request at agenda review for each commissioner to draft a motion on the topic, Whiting said he had drafted a resolution he believed was appropriate.

Wadley said he hoped to stay out of the Wal-Mart issue, which he described as emotional and polarizing. Wadley noted that he had never had any private meetings with any Wal-Mart representative and spoke of his belief in private property rights.

Wadley also stated he didn’t believe the same reaction would result if a different large chain proposed moving to Pagosa Springs.

Without offering comments of his own, Lucero opened the floor to public comment before any motions were made, stating he hoped to move forward with a decision at the meeting.

Fourteen audience members made their way to the microphone to chime in on the topic.

The first of those, Vivian Rader, noted that there are two Wal-Marts — the business and the project — saying the store had the right to locate in Pagosa, but should receive no special treatment.

Rader also stated that the project’s effect on private property should be mitigated and that the BoCC should table the issue until more research could be done, pointing out that Wal-Mart violates the town’s comprehensive plan section on big box retailers.

The youngest commenter, Michelle Church, was next, stating that Wal-Mart would not take away from the small-town feel of Pagosa, but would add another grocery store to compete with City Market, price-wise. Church also spoke of jobs, both at the store and during its construction, and noted it was “just another” job option and amenity that would bring revenue to the area.

Marlene Minors stated her concern that county residents are the most-affected by the Wal-Mart, but had no say in the town’s vote to allow big box retailers.

Dennis Spence said he wanted personal rights respected, but not at the cost of killing the community.

Monte Lane said he felt the good of the project outweighed the bad and the ugly, citing personal property rights and the potential for additional money in the community.

Susie Kleckner asked what evidence and studies the board was relying on for taking a position, noting that prior boards has passed resolutions applicable to the situation. Lucero responded, saying the BoCC’s hand has been forced to take a position and that the board had been asked to take a position.

Mike Church was next up, stating that people will always live close to commercial development, and that the site Wal-Mart intends to build on has been zoned commercial for 20 years. He also noted that other chain retailers in Pagosa Springs built square boxes with poor landscaping, but that Wal-Mart was trying to design a nice building. He also noted the small number of people at the meeting in which Aspen Village was approved (the subdivision where Wal-Mart plans to locate) and with Family Dollar, which is located closer to homes than Wal-Mart would be.

Bill Hudson suggested that the commissioners schedule public hearings before taking a stance on the matter.

Tom Olsen stated his belief that the store would be good for the community, especially for young families. He also noted it would provide summer jobs for youth in the community and would benefit the older citizens.

Gary Williams was next up, stating that he believes the commissioners had already made up their minds, but urged the board to be deliberate, noting that Wal-Mart’s adjustments to the building design came from conflict over the matter.

Dan Sanders spoke in favor of the store, citing that it would provide needed grocery shopping, and urged that local leaders not banter and decide what companies could locate here, but allow free enterprise.

Julie Church stated that Pagosa was lucky Wal-Mart plans to build a store in Pagosa in light of the economic downturn and said that, “nobody wants to come here.” Church added that Wal-Mart would be competition for City Market and that denying Wal-Mart the right to build would be, “shooting ourselves in the foot” for future business.

Muriel Eason, too, said she felt the commissioners had made up their minds, but said she didn’t feel there had been enough time to provide comment to the BoCC and that a Community Benefit Agreement could help make it a win-win situation.

Last up during public comment was Udgar Parsons, who noted that the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation had elected to remain neutral on the topic (see related article).

Lucero then turned the meeting back to the commissioners, asking for a motion, with Wadley again deferring to Whiting.

Whiting stated that the, “issue has torn me up as a decision maker,” adding that he believes in free market and that there was no reason for the county to weigh in on the issue.

Whiting continued to question facts stated throughout the Wal-Mart process, such as employment estimates, and stated it would take time to know the facts.

With that, Whiting read his drafted resolution, which included the assertion that the BoCC has held no public meetings to obtain input on the project, has not reviewed the project and its impacts, has not had access to information to assess the project, has no legal right and has not been asked by the town to participate in any meetings regarding the project.

The resolution asked that the board maintain a neutral position, but might in the future take a position when adequate information is provided and the public has been given the option to weigh in.

Lucero seconded the motion for the purpose of discussion, with Wadley then stating that any BoCC participation would be symbolic, and that the county had been asked to take a position, with the project becoming a county-related item in a limited way (possible ownership of Alpha Road).

Lucero said he seconded Whiting’s motion to accept the resolution out of respect, then called for a vote in which he and Wadley voted against Whiting’s resolution.

With that, Wadley made a motion to take a position in support of the town in its effort to bring Wal-Mart to Pagosa Springs.

Lucero then read from a prepared statement.

“We have been asked by many members in the community to take a position on the proposed coming of Wal-Mart to Pagosa Springs,” Lucero began. “As is commonly the case with any large shocks to the economic system, the coming of a new Wal-Mart to a given community is accompanied by a multitude of different impacts on different individuals and on the local government.”

Lucero then spoke of the financial struggles of Archuleta County claiming that, while Wal-Mart may not solve those problems, it would create a significant revenue stream.

He continued, asserting that facts from various experts could be pitted against each other, but that the key variable in any situation is community. Lucero also encouraged the town to attempt to mitigate impacts consistent with the values of the community.

Whiting said he agreed with many of Lucero’s comments, but said that the county has no legal standing in the matter and making a decision so soon, on such a large project, with so little input solicited, was “gratuitous.”

After Lucero had Wadley reread his motion, it was passed 2-1, with Whiting as the dissenting vote.

randi@pagosasun.com

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