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Meetings set for business incentives, Reservoir Hill plan

During the next week, members of the public may have an opportunity to voice opinions about matters that have raised a considerable amount of controversy during the past several weeks — the location of a Wal-Mart in town and the proposal to construct recreational amenities on Reservoir Hill.

Today, at noon, in Town Hall, the Pagosa Springs Town Council will be asked to consider whether or not to extend fee abatements to new developments, as well as sales tax rebates for businesses opening or expanding in town.

First presented during the Dec. 6 meeting, Resolution 2011-16 — “A policy to enhance the town’s financial stability” — proposes a 50-percent abatement of town planning, building and impact fees for new development. Council will be asked to extend that abatement (first implemented in 2009) and whether that abatement should be waived for new development exceeding 25,000 square feet.

Furthermore, 2011-16 proposes a rebate of sales taxes between 12.5 and 50 percent, “dependent on incremental sales increase and the number of employees added,” but goes on to read, “The application of this policy is limited to businesses with facilities of less than 25,000 square feet.”

During the Dec. 6 meeting, 2011-16 lacked language stipulating any building size threshold, a point raised by local businessman Morgan Murri. The matter was tabled and 2011-16 was brought back to council for the Dec. 15 meeting, with size stipulations included.

The majority of board members at that meeting made it clear they opposed restricting abatements to developments less than 25,000 square feet. At that meeting, Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem called on Murri to reiterate why he felt the restrictive language should be included in 2011-16. After Murri claimed that he could provide research showing the deleterious effects of big box retailers on small rural towns and small business, trustee Shari Pierce asked for time to review Murri’s documents. Despite a statement by trustee Stan Holt that he desired to see the resolution passed, minus the size restrictions, council agreed to table the motion.

No mention was made regarding the proposed sales tax rebates.

At the Jan. 3 council meeting, Josh Phair, Wal-Mart’s director of public affairs and government relations in Colorado, announced his company’s intention to locate a 93,000-square-foot store in town. Prior to Phair’s announcement, Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon told a packed room, “We will not entertain public comment. We will instead utilize a diplomatic option establishing civil organization and protocol in a public forum setting at the community center. The date will be determined at the mid-month meeting.”

Furthermore, 2011-16 was absent from the Jan. 3 agenda. Had the resolution been on the agenda and had a motion been seconded to either accept or reject, council would have been statutorily compelled to open the matter up for public comment.

Today’s meeting could open up the big box issue to public input, albeit restricted to discussion on the terms of 2011-16 — authorizing fee abatements and sales tax rebates on new or expanded businesses, as well as any size restrictions.

However, if the matter is tabled again, there is no requirement for council to open up discussion relating to big box development.

On Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 6 p.m. in the Ross Aragon Community Center, the public will definitely have the opportunity to weigh in on proposed developments for Reservoir Hill.

On Tuesday, the Town Tourism Committee briefly discussed strategies for presenting proposals to area residents that, if accepted by council, would significantly change the landscape of the hill.

As reported in the Aug. 4, 2011 edition of The SUN, the TTC proposed the expansion of amenities on Reservoir Hill including a permanent amphitheater structure for the meadow where festivals take place (at an estimated cost of $1.5 million), an observation tower at the hill’s summit, and infrastructure improvements including sewer, electrical, water and road improvements, with total estimated costs at almost $2.5 million.

However, as presented at an Oct.19, 2011 council meeting, the TTC also proposed a chairlift, an alpine coaster, a zip line and a tethered hot-air balloon ride while, in town, a geothermally-heated “Sprayground” is proposed for one of the downtown parks (with no admission charge).

The plans for expanded development on the hill arose soon after the TTC convinced council to purchase a decommissioned chairlift for the hill. Council then charged the TTC to develop a business plan to show the financial viability of running that chairlift. That business plan evolved into the current proposal for constructing numerous recreational amenities on the hill.

At that meeting (reported in the Oct. 25, 2011 edition of The SUN), the TTC rationalized its plans by claiming the amenities would boost tourism (especially during the off season) by providing incentives for visitors to stay, as well as attracting a younger demographic of visitors (currently the majority of visitors are age 55 or older).

Despite claims that the proposals would be funded through state and federal grants, as well as private financing, and that the amenities would add a significant boost for jobs, income and sales tax revenues, a number of area residents have voiced opposition to development on Reservoir Hill — a local amenity long regarded as a unique slice of wilderness located in the heart of the downtown core.

Although today’s discussion at Town Hall will not guarantee local residents a chance to speak to the big box issue, Aragon did promise a public forum on the matter would be scheduled sometime this year. However, council cannot delay the matter of 2011-16 forever and that issue will be open for discussion, whether or not anyone is in attendance to speak to the matter.

The issue of Reservoir Hill, on the other hand, will certainly hear public input — a discussion that could provide as much entertainment and excitement as any proposed recreational amenity.

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