While one Big Box store waits, another is built


Staff Writer

While Wal-Mart elected to delay groundbreaking for a store until next spring because of unacceptably high contractor bids, Tractor Supply Company, despite some roadblocks, is making  progress towards a May 2014 grand opening, having broken ground recently in preparation for laying a building foundation this week at a site near the intersection of U.S. 160 and 84.

One major obstacle to the process was avoided last week, but not before some distress developed.

Rick Wilson, owner of RA Wilson Enterprises, the exclusive Tractor Supply Company developer in the United States, said in a phone interview with SUN staff, “We have broken ground and started excavation via an excavation permit issued by the city on the fifteenth, and we are on track for starting footers tomorrow (Oct. 24). We hope to start laying blocks and building the building early next week.”

However, Wilson expressed concern about acquiring the full building permit in a timely fashion — a concern that involved the manner in which the town building department responded.

“Your building permit issuing department is rather slow. I have had to bring professionals in from all over the country to help. They’ve (the town) held us up for three weeks. We are still waiting on our final approval, which we hope to get today (Oct. 23).”

Wilson explained that while excavation was currently underway and footers could be built under the excavation permit, construction of the building itself could not begin without the full building permit. He went on to say that if he didn’t have the building permit in hand by Friday, Oct. 25, he would have to hold off on construction until next spring and the store would not hold its grand opening until late fall 2014.

“We’ve made it crystal clear to those guys,” Wilson said. “They’ve had everything long enough. We’ve got to pull a building permit to be able to build this thing through the winter. Ten business days is what your town code says, to review and approve plans, and now we’re into the third week. We’re hopeful. If we get our permit by Friday, we’ll be on schedule. If it doesn’t happen by then, we’ll lose the winter — four or five, maybe even six months.

“You guys have such a time-sensitivity here as you head into fall because of the snow,” Wilson explained. “We planned on having permits and starting construction on September twentieth, but we didn’t start excavation until October fifteenth, so there’s twenty-five valuable days we missed. The ten-business-day application process would have been great.”

Some of Wilson’s concerns were answered before his deadline.

On Monday, town planner James Dickhoff confirmed Tractor Supply Company had submitted its plans on Sept. 24, and that the excavation permit wasn’t issued until Oct. 14. He informed The SUN that the full building permit was issued last week, late in the day on Oct. 23 — almost a month later.

Dickhoff, however, denied the existence of a ten-day time limit in the town’s municipal code between when plans are submitted and permits are issued.

“There’s nowhere in the code where it says that,” Dickhoff said. “Our policy is to try to turn plans around within ten working days, but when we get these big box stores like that, we go out for a third party review. We send the plans out to a structural engineer. A ten-day turnaround would be the fastest you would see in the entire nation.”

Given the size of the Tractor Supply Company building, a three-week turnaround is very fast, Dickhoff argued. Most larger cities would have taken two or three months, he said, but since there hasn’t been much else happening in Pagosa Springs, the planning department was able to devote more time to expediting the process for Tractor Supply Company.

“This is a big project,” Dickhoff said. “We certainly want to make sure we do a thorough review and not just try to meet a ten-working-day deadline.”

On the other hand, Dickhoff did admit the town’s building official, Zach Richardson, went out of town for training right after Tractor Supply Company submitted its building permit application and was gone for a week.

However, according to Dickhoff, this absence didn’t delay the process, because the plans were sent away for third-party review during that week and came back just in time for Richardson to begin his review.

Dickhoff confirmed the town was paid $122,480.51 in impact fees on Oct. 23, which will be split between funds budgeted for roads, emergency management, and regional public buildings.

Town council recently changed the structure and wording of its impact fee collection guidelines. Impact fees were once collected with an eye towards building a new facility for the county court system. However, since the county appeared to be making little progress in that project, the town changed its Land Use and Development Code so all future impact fee collections are earmarked for a new town road and bridge shop.

Impact fees collected before town council changed the code will be refunded to developers if they are not used within 10 years for the original purpose, a new county courthouse; the money cannot be transferred to the new road and bridge shop fund.

A delay in construction caused by a failure on the town’s part to produce the building permit would have forced another change to next year’s town budget.

Town manager David Mitchem recently confirmed the preliminary 2014 town budget contained $300,000 worth of projected sales tax revenue attributable to the new business created by Wal-Mart and Tractor Supply Company. That budget line item had to be revised when Wal-Mart announced a delay in its building schedule, pushing its grand opening back until late 2014.

On May 7, when Wilson made his first presentation to town council, he explained, “Tractor Supply Company, a farm and ranch supplies merchandise retailer, is a rather large company. I checked this morning and they are operating fourteen hundred and forty one stores in all fifty states.

“Tractor Supply Company has recently approved, and highly desires, having stores in the state of Colorado, and a few in northern New Mexico, southern Wyoming and western Kansas. Up until about this time last year, Tractor Supply did not have a store operating in the state of Colorado. As of today there are four stores in the state, and there are another nine approved by the company. Your fair city, Pagosa Springs, is one of them.”

Wilson went on to explain that the company is headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., but the plan is to also build a large distribution center somewhere in Colorado. He then explained the demographic and marketing research behind the company’s decision to open a store in Pagosa Country, projecting the store will earn between seven and eight million dollars per year and employ more than 30 people. Wilson promised that, when it’s constructed, and if it opens on schedule, the store will pre-hire between 30 and 40 people in May.

“I have been in sixteen cities in ten states,” Wilson said, “and I have never seen anyone not welcome these people to town. They have a nice presence. What we will construct will meet or exceed the code for Pagosa Springs, as we do in all areas.”

According to Resolution 2012-20, which town council passed last year during budget season, any building over 25,000 square feet is considered a “big box store” and does not qualify for the town’s economic development tax rebates. Wal-Mart’s plans call for a 92,000 square foot building on the corner of Alpha Drive and Aspen Village Drive on the uptown side of Pagosa.

Wilson went on to explain the location and size of the building he plans to construct. It will be at 205 U.S. 84, and will have a 3.5 acre footprint — including the parking lot — with a 22,000 square foot building. Connected to the side of the building will be a 15,000 square foot outdoor display area for bulk items that won’t fit on a shelf inside the store.

“Their standard plans for the structure and the footprint that we will put in,” Wilson concluded, “we have researched, and there is nothing we can tell that is in any way different from your code. Mr. Dickhoff has been very helpful and I should point out it’s not always the case when we go to a city to start development and the attitude is, ‘What can we do to assist you in bringing this to our community?’”