Council Sells Their Soul to Big Box Retail, Pagosa Daily Post, July 25, 2006

Town Council, the Planning Commission, and Mayor Aragon are selling the soul of our town to big box retailers. In a work session on July 18, Council and Planning worked with staff on the town big box ordinance. The ordinance will require an impact study and clarify some design guidelines, but it doesn’t do what the majority of citizen’s want – eliminate big box stores from the future vision for Pagosa Springs.

The Town paid for a community survey to gather important information in developing the Comprehensive Plan, the Master Plan and for the baseline Economic Impact Study, completed in 2005 by Economic and Planning Systems (EPS). According to that survey, 59% of respondents, from all economic sectors, wanted no big box stores in Pagosa Springs. Only 18 % of respondents would support big box stores with restrictions. No definition of restrictions was provided in the survey.

Why then, is town council set to approve an ordinance that would allow huge box development of up to 180,000 square feet? That’s more than three times the size of the Pagosa Lakes City Market, the largest retail store in town at 54,000 square feet. The entire Country Center Development (where City Market it located) comes in at 120,000 square feet according to town planner, Tamra Allen

The Council and the planning commission are putting out the welcome mat and inviting big box and chain stores to Pagosa. This will not maintain our small town character. This will not provide the type of lifestyle we all want. This will not help our local business owners.

According to Building Permit records, EPS reported that the town only allowed 15,000 square foot of retail development per year, for a total of 126,000 square foot of retail development in the past eight years. We are poised to allow in one fell swoop, under one giant roof, 180,000 square feet.

Allen said she didn’t know the size of the Durango Wal-Mart, but estimated in at over 200,000 square feet. (The Home Depot in Durango measures in at 93,700 square feet). In Grand Junction, the K-Mart store is 40,318 square feet, the Wal-Mart is 111,000 square feet and the new Target is 125,000 square feet.

Many small towns and cities have successfully capped the size of retail stores. And these caps have been upheld in courts as a valid use of a local land-use authority. The Big Box task force last year recommended size caps of 35,000 square feet in some areas and at the most 50-55,000 square feet.

In Bozeman, Montana they capped store size at 75,000 square feet. Hailey, Idaho allows no more than 36,000 square feet for a single retail store and multiple retail centers are capped at 72,000 square feet. Homer, Alaska, has capped the size of retail stores at 25,000-45,000 square feet and adopted a community impact review process for proposed retail developments over 15,000 square feet. Santa Fe, New Mexico, prohibits retail stores larger than 150,000 square feet and requires stores over 30,000 square feet to comply with architectural and site design standards. And Taos, New Mexico enacted an ordinance restricting construction of large retail stores. The measure bans new stores that exceed 80,000 square feet and requires developers to obtain a special permit to build stores over 30,000 square feet.

It can be done successfully without affecting the economic growth of our community. And it is what the majority of residents want. It is what EPS recommends in their baseline economic study: “A single large format discounter will cannibalize
or take sales away from the forecasted Other Shoppers Goods retail growth.”

I return to the community survey where citizens were also asked what type of retail they wanted to see in Pagosa. Sixty percent said small, independent restaurants and 56 percent said independent retail while 59 percent said an additional grocery store.

EPS clearly states that: “Lifting the moratorium on big box development will likely accommodate the development of a supercenter with a grocery store, but is likely to preclude the attraction of a second, separate supermarket to the area.” More direct opposition to what citizens want.

EPS suggested that a healthy mix of a handful of mid-box retailers, the size of Ace, would help maintain our small town environment and keep the dollars in Pagosa, thus effectively eliminating a significant portion of the economic leakage. In the EPS study, large format retailers make up Plan B and provide $5.4 million in new revenue and net surplus estimate of $717,003. But the mid-box mix with independent retailers provides $5 million in new revenue and net surplus revenue of $521,105.

Council and the Mayor are selling the soul of this community for an estimated $196,000.

As the big box task force wrote in their report: “Even dressed up in historical costume, a big box breaks away from traditional way of doing business in Pagosa Springs, which is very often doing business directly with the business owner. This is what creates the feeling of history that is missing in the areas predominated by big box retail, and that is what locals call ‘the small town feeling’.”

Communities all over this country are taking a stand to preserve their unique character, their historic significance, and their small town charm by saying no to big box retail – no to the huge structures, trashy parking lots, and $3 gallons of pickles that cannot be consumed before spoiling.

A big point of contention during the work session was the desire for the ordinance to require the large-format retailer to pay a living wage and for the town to be able to audit them to be sure they live up to that requirement. Council member Darrel Cotton made it clear that he would not support the ordinance with the wage requirement. “We don’t belong in a businesses books, that’s not where government belongs,” Cotton said.

The current median wage in Archuleta County for retail workers is $9.28 per hour. The average wage for non-union employees working for major retailers is between $7.50 and $8.50 per hour. Big box wages will be less than what employees are making at independent businesses in Archuleta County.

I find it difficult to envision how demanding a big box retailer pay a living wage goes against free enterprise, as Cotton said during the meeting. A big box store will likely come into Pagosa, take employees and customers from local, independent businesses, leaving them scrambling to come up with a different business plan to compete in the marketplace.

Council member Cotton frequently states that he doesn’t think it is government’s job to (regulate), (govern), (restrict), (plan). Which always makes me wonder what exactly council member Cotton thinks his job is and if he doesn’t want to do it, why the heck he remains on the town council?

Yet, Wal-Mart, the prominent big-box store most likely to come to Pagosa, is known for dictating terms to its suppliers. Not only dictating, but demanding, and even auditing another businesses books to determine if they are worthy to do business with the largest company in the world.

Yet some members of town council and our mayor do not feel they have a right to ask the same of a big box retailer like Wal-mart. I say, they are wrong.

The issue comes before council with a first reading of the ordinance on August 1. The meeting starts promptly at 5:00 p.m. It is time for the 59 percent of us who do not want a big box store in Pagosa to show up and speak out. The current big box moratorium ends in September and believe me, the big box store is coming.

Don’t wait until the plan is up for approval and be surprised that your home in the Pagosa Lakes Ranch now looks out over a big box store. Don’t be surprised if your home in the Meadows is flooded with light pollution from the big box store. Don’t be surprised if you live down Highway 84 and are suddenly inundated with plastic trash bags f
rom the big box retailer. And don’t complain about the traffic, the noise, and the pollution. It will be too late then.

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