Pagosa Springs voters will decide in April whether to impose tough standards on new big-box stores like Walmart that
want to open in town.
Residents who favor strict guidelines submitted a petition last month with enough signatures to force a referendum,according to the Town Clerk's Office. The group needed 83 signatures from eligible voters and turned in 136 signatures,with 44 being rejected - largely because those people didn't live in town - for a total of 92 acceptable signatures,the Clerk's Office reported.
The referendum will be included on April's general election ballot - the same time the mayor and three town councilors
are up for election.
In some respects, the referendum will gauge residents' attitude toward big-box stores in town. But Matt Roane, who
helped gather signatures for the petition, said voters are being asked whether they support additional studies to be
done for large retail stores proposing to locate in Pagosa - not whether they support a big-box store coming to
It's about how (businesses come to Pagosa) that is at issue," Roane said.
The Town Council voted 6-1 in August to repeal a section of its Land Use Development Code that required new businesses
more than 40,000 square feet to complete a series of impact studies and to minimize those impacts before opening. The
impact studies would have evaluated a big-box store's impact on the environment, police department and surrounding
Town Manager David Mitchem said the studies were economically prohibitive and discouraged large businesses from wanting
to open in Pagosa. He said at least one big-box store has expressed interest in coming to Pagosa, but he declined to
say which one.
Some residents accused the Town Council of lowering its standards purely for financial gain. Big-box businesses like
Walmart have opened stores around the world, and it is hard to believe Pagosa's standards are overly prohibitive, they
Roane, a Pagosa lawyer, filed a lawsuit in October against the town alleging the Town Council's ordinance overturning
the tougher guidelines was not properly adopted and the town improperly denied him access to the referendum
In a settlement agreement, the town agreed to suspend the ordinance long enough to give residents a chance to collect
83 signatures. Because enough signatures were collected, the ordinance remains suspended pending the outcome of April's
In an interview this week, Mitchem said the impact studies required in the old land use code effectively kept large
The requirements that were in the code that was repealed were very, very restrictive and limited development of
anything over 40,000 square feet," he said. It made the requirements so restrictive that developers would be
hard-pressed to meet (them)."
The ordinance overturning the land use code didn't speak to the aesthetics of large retail buildings; rather it reduced
the number of studies required before construction.
Roane said large retailers should be held to a higher standard and required to do impact studies because they have the
greatest potential to change the community forever.
When a rowboat sinks, one or two people sink," he said. When the Titanic sinks, thousands of people are affected. So
you take more precautions when you're getting on the Titanic."