On July 15, citizens in Carbondale, Colorado, voted 57 to 43 percent to reject a 252,000-square-foot shopping center anchored by a Target store. The hotly debated referendum produced the largest election turnout in the town’s history.
Carbondale is a community of 5,200 people in the Roaring Fork Valley between Glenwood Springs and Aspen. Carbondale has a lively downtown of locally owned businesses, including hardware, book, and clothing stores.
Three years ago, a developer proposed building a shopping center on a 24-acre site along Highway 133 and outer Main Street. The largest store would be a Target superstore situated with its back to outer Main Street, creating a 380-foot long wall without any windows or doors. The center was projected to generate revenue equal to the sales of all of the town’s existing retailers combined.
Citizens and local business owners have been fighting the development from the beginning. The grassroots Mountain Folks for Global Justice led the opposition, arguing that the development would cannibalize sales from locally owned, downtown businesses, and would impose substantial costs on the town for infrastructure and public services.
In January, after years of packed public meetings and much contentious debate, the town trustees voted 5-2 to approve the project. Supporters said the center was needed to capture retail spending and sales tax dollars currently flowing to nearby communities.
Shortly thereafter, a group of local women, calling themselves the Town Mothers gathered signatures for the voter referendum. “We believe Carbondale deserves development which is compatible with its scale, character and values,” they argued.
The vote was expected to be much closer. Mike Chamness of Mountain Folks hopes that the strong turnout and solid defeat will convince the town trustees to back two planning measures the group introduced three years ago when the shopping center was first proposed.
The measures would prohibit stores over 60,000 square feet and require proposals for stores larger than 20,000 square feet to undergo a community impact assessment. The assessment would consider the project’s impact on traffic, public services, the community, the environment, and the town’s finances.