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Aragon wins mayoral race, ‘yes’ on big box referendum

On Tuesday, voters in the town of Pagosa Springs decided to scrap a portion of the Land Use and Development Code regulating Big Box development, while voting to retain Ross Aragon as the town’s mayor.

Aragon was ready to begin his ninth term as mayor at last night’s council meeting. In the mayoral race, Aragon had 274 votes, while his opponent, local resident Bill Hudson, had 121 votes.

Also at last night’s council meeting, council members Darrell Cotton and Don Volger were set to be sworn in for another term on the town board, representing Districts 2 and 3 (respectively) while Kathie Lattin was to be sworn in to represent District 1. All candidates for council seats ran unopposed in their districts.

On Referendum A, 251 voted ‘yes’ while 135 voted ‘no.’ Voting ‘no’ on the referendum would have kept language in the LUDC that regulated Big Box development, while voting ‘yes’ on the referendum eliminated the section of the LUDC focused on Big Box development.

According to Pagosa Springs Town Clerk April Hessman, a total of 404 ballots were cast, representing just 41 percent of all registered voters in the town of Pagosa Springs.

“I feel very humbled and honored that the citizens believe in my leadership,” said Aragon regarding his victory on Tuesday.

Looking ahead to his next term, Aragon said, “There’s going to be a lot of challenges, in every sense of the word. I’m just blessed to serve with the board we have and I know they’ll meet those challenges.”

The mayor, Cotton, Lattin and Volger will all serve terms of four years. In April 2012, at-large council seats will be open for election. Currently, those seats are being held by Stan Holt, Shari Pierce and Jerry Jackson.

According to Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem, council will most likely begin to address other portions of the LUDC regulating Big Box development.

“Given the voters approval of that issue, cleanup on the Big Box issue will most likely proceed in a timely fashion,” said Mitchem.

Last August, council passed Ordinance 743 which repealed section 2.4.5 of the LUDC — a section dealing specifically with Big Box development. At that time, Mitchem reported to council that he had been approached by developers interested in putting a Big Box store in Pagosa Springs, but the developer had been reluctant to develop locally due to restrictions in the LUDC.

In December, several area residents circulated a petition to bring the matter of Ordinance 743 to the voters — Referendum A. With the petition certified late last year, council approved the addition of the referendum to Tuesday’s ballot.

The other five sections of the LUDC that regulated Big Box development were left unaddressed until mid-February of this year. At a Feb. 18 council meeting, Mitchem presented Ordinance 751 for a first reading. That ordinance would have created a second referendum, asking town voters whether or not to repeal the five sections in the LUDC related to Big Box regulations, but not covered in section 2.4.5. However, at a special council meeting on March 9, council decided not to proceed with a second referendum, preferring to wait for the results of Tuesday’s election before considering other portions of the LUDC regulating Big Box development (most of those other sections address proposed developments over 100,000 square feet).

Section 2.4.5 of the LUDC regulated large retail commercial development, stipulating design standards and impact studies for proposed developments over 50,000 square feet.

It remains to be seen if Big Box development will occur in Pagosa Springs. Given the current local economic climate (see related story), it could be years before a potential Big Box developer views Pagosa Springs as a viable location for business.

What is clear is that Aragon has started an unprecedented ninth term and stands as one of the longest serving mayors in the country. If Aragon completes this term, he will have served as the town’s mayor for 36 years.

jim@pagosasun.com