By Ed Fincher
The Community Benefits Agreement that Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation board member Mark Weiler has been promising for months to negotiate with Josh Phair from Wal-Mart may in fact turn out to be more like a list of voluntary concessions instead of a legally binding contract.
“I’m the one that’s the conduit of information between the CDC and Wal-Mart’s Josh Phair,” Weiler claimed. “They are kind of waiting for the town to get all of their ducks in a row before they move on to their next steps.” Weiler may have been referring to Steve and Vivian Rader’s recent appeal of the Design Review Board’s decision to approve Wal-Mart’s application.
“In the discussions that we’ve had about the best practices they do with other communities, and how they support communities,” Weiler continued, “all we’re going to attempt to do is to list the support that they are going to have and share that with everyone.
“At the end of the day, the communities that have been able to have a contractual benefits agreement with Wal-Mart have had something Wal-Mart needed. In the case of Durango, they had to annex the property and provide sewage and so on. None of that happened here. We asked them to come to our community and be good neighbors, and have a list of the things they would do and any of the projects, programs and so forth they are going to support.”
“So there’s no CBA?” audience member Ken Vickerstaff asked. “Or won’t be, in your opinion?” When Weiler didn’t answer right away, Vickerstaff pressed, “Who would drive that? Is there an entity that could drive an actual request for a CBA?”
“We’ve already done that,” Weiler responded, explaining the steps the CDC has taken throughout the permitting process laid out in the Land Use and Development Code. “The entity that is going to be the liaison for it is going to be the CDC.”
“Okay, so again,” Vickerstaff pressed, “Will there be a CBA, in your mind? You’re sounding like there won’t be.”
Weiler stood his ground for a moment and said, “I’m sorry I gave you that impression.”
“That’s what I hear,” said Vickerstaff. “I’m talking about a written, legal CBA document. Do we expect it?”
“I think what we’ll have is a community benefits statement,” Weiler said, after a long pause. “I don’t think we are going to have an agreement.”
“And that’s because we lack leverage?” audience member Jerry Smith asked. “That is the essence of what you were saying?”
“We have no leverage,” Weiler admitted. “We all know that here. The question is, do you want to punch them in the face, and then tell them, ‘Look, I would like you to like me now that I’ve punched you in the nose.’ That’s probably not a good strategy. So, what we’ve chosen to do is say, ‘We know the things you have done in other communities. You have been supportive. We would like to enjoy the same support in our community.’
“At the end of the day, private property owners have rights in Colorado to develop.” Weiler then used his company, Parelli Natural Horsemanship, as an example, stating that the only reason it has a CBA is because it received funding from the State of Colorado, Archuleta County and the Town of Pagosa Springs. Wal-Mart has asked for no economic development money from any level of the government. “So what can you do with it?”
“I’m just concerned,” Archuleta County Commissioner Michael Whiting said from the audience, “because we just handed a road to them, as one example …”
“We didn’t hand them anything, Michael,” Weiler interrupted. “Oh, you mean you did?”
Everyone except Whiting. “I didn’t hand them anything. Check the record. The vote was 2-1. I did not give my vote to giving Wal-Mart a fresh road, but my point is, they wouldn’t be coming here if we didn’t have something to offer.
“I think you are doing a great job. Just getting in the door with Wal-Mart is awesome. Just getting them to talk about it is a huge step forward. It’s something the town should have been doing. You guys are doing the job of the town, right now, which I applaud you for doing this.
“However, if the deal closes before the CBA is signed, it is going to be really tough to get these guys to agree to anything. So, I’d just like to see a better alignment with the finish line for the CBA and Town Manager David Mitchem’s finish line for the Wal-Mart permit.”
“I don’t know if there’s the political will on the part of the town to do that,” CDC chairperson Muriel Eason complained, “but we’ll see.”
“The only thing we’re going to get,” Weiler asserted, “is because of the people in this room.”