In 2003, voters in Carbondale, Colorado overwhelmingly rejected a development plan to put a big box retail store in the so-called Crystal River Marketplace, a meadow along the western side of Colorado Highway 133. But the big box concept dies hard, and developers are back three years later trying to push the same idea. The Carbondale Board of Trustees now have another big box plan on their desk, and local residents are not likely to see much difference from the first plan. In the wake of the 2003 election, the town created an Economic Roadmap Group (RMG) that worked for over a year with consultants and the Crystal Marketplace developers to come up with a plan for the property. The citizens group developed a plan for the project — but without a big box. But the Marketplace has changed hands in the interim, and a potential new developer has been lobbying the Board of Trustees for big box support. The RMG wants to avoid a replay of the 2003 ballot question. The Denver-based Peregrine Group Development LLC, wants to buy the Marketplace for a big box. The current Crystal Marketplace owner wanted to create a total of 252,000 s.f. of commercial space on the 22 acre site, anchored by a 125,000 s.f. big-box retailer. The RMG proposed instead a 60,000-square-foot grocery store anchor with a potential for a larger store with special review; and three “junior anchor” stores totaling about 75,000 s.f., for a total of 170,000 s.f. It also included 88 townhomes and condominiums. The new developer says “junior anchor” stores like Office Max or the Gap are not interested in Carbondale. The RMG option 2 was a 60,000 s.f. grocery store anchor with about 30,000 s.f. of other commercial space, plus 168 residential units. But one member of the Board of Trustees wants an Option 3, with an anchor of 100,000 s.f. But the Road Map Group is not pleased with Option 3, according to the Post Independent newspaper. Mayor Michael Hassig does not like options that include more residential units. “In Carbondale right now, it’s a lot easier to sell residential than commercial… I am unwilling to consider what has been predominantly a commercial piece … to become primarily residential,” he told the newspaper. But by Christmas, the new developer had brought around Home Depot representatives, and plans to unveil a proposal by mid February for the Crystal Marketplace. To gather more support, the new developer has approached the Rocky Mountain Institute, a think tank that would try to present the plan as an “energy-efficient” big box, or, as the newspaper said, “as green as possible” to woo Carbondale voters. Mayor Hassig refused to allow public comment at a meeting earlier this year on the Maketplace, citing time constraints. A room full of citizens who had been planning to comment on the proposed development went home disappointed. The developer has promised to give town officials a list of the 61 junior anchor corporations he says he contacted, but so far no list has been produced.
The Crystal Marketplace has been a controversy in Carbondale since 1999, when the site was purchased from a school and proposed for a mall. Town officials have supported big boxes in the past, but the taxpayers did not. The RMG did not go far enough in their recommendations, because this latest big box plan would not even be on the table if Carbondale had passed an ordinance limiting store size to 60,000 s.f. The Crystal Marketplace is a very fragile plan, and the latest discussion about Home Depot could be just enough the shatter big boxes once and for all. Carbondale voters may have to reorganize to stop the big box store again — whether its “green,” or not.