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Wal-Mart open house draws crowd

With “Wal-Mart” seemingly having entered the Pagosa Springs lexicon as either a pejorative or a superlative, nearly 200 local residents packed into the county fairgrounds exhibition hall last Thursday to see what the word was about.

While Wal-Mart representatives manned several displays indicating several aspects of the proposed store’s design, residents were guided past those displays and then encouraged to fill out comment cards regarding what they had seen.

Sent in a counterclockwise direction, residents viewed initial site plans for the project, to be located just south of the Parelli campus on Alpha Drive.

Those plans included overhead views of the project, as well as architectural renderings of what the store is proposed to look like. Additionally, those plans included suggested landscaping designs and renderings.

Also included in the “tour” were proposed traffic improvements to the area. With necessary widening of U.S. 160 (with lengthened acceleration/deceleration and left-turn lanes) and Alpha Drive (also widened with additional turn lanes), those traffic improvements also included an additional entrance from U.S. 160 with a road tying into the project along the west side of the Parelli campus.

Midway through the tour, Josh Phair, Wal-Mart’s director of public affairs and government relations in Colorado, took questions from numerous residents (at times, Phair was surrounded by as many as 30 people, several wearing anti-Wal-Mart T-shirts).

Residents were greeted at the entrance by Pagosa Springs Town Clerk April Hessman, who handed out comment cards for attendees. With about a half dozen tables set up for residents to fill out those cards, the tables saw near full occupancy during the two hours allotted for the open house.

Outside the exhibition hall, signs both supporting and opposing Wal-Mart could be seen, with the opposition holding a clear advantage in numbers.

Still, residents inside the building appeared to be evenly split in their feelings regarding Wal-Mart, with supporters mostly speaking to the need for jobs and local development, while opponents mostly said they were concerned about Wal-Mart’s effect on small businesses and the character of Pagosa Country, as well as opposing Wal-Mart’s business practices and employment policies.

While many residents got their first glimpse of where a proposed Wal-Mart store will go, what it will look like and had other questions answered regarding what all that could mean (albeit, from Wal-Mart’s perspective), probably few walked away with a different opinion than the one they held walking into Thursday’s open house presentation.

And the word is: It is a controversy that shows no sign of letting up.

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