To paraphrase scientist Margaret Mead: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed Paonia citizens can change the future; indeed, they may have.
At Tuesday night's town board meeting, Paonia trustees voted unanimously to consider an emergency ordinance that, in part, would put strict regulations on formula businesses -- those businesses similar or the same in every detail regardless of location.
Paonia resident Thomas Markle came before the board to propose an ordinance amending the town's zoning laws, to include language specific to formula businesses. A regular attendee of town meetings, Markle said he's never before requested to be on an agenda. But after learning in early July that a Dollar General store was proposed on Samuel Wade Road just outside of Paonia town limits, he took action.
He submitted to town clerk Corinne Ferguson a petition signed over the July 4 weekend by 126 citizens, specifying possible amendments to Paonia's zoning code. The petition requests incorporation of portions of language contained in the town's "1996 Paonia Comprehensive Plan" and the 2010 "Highway 133 Corridor Master Plan" into the code. Both were created to address growth anticipated at the time. Neither town code nor the documents address formula businesses.
Markle was backed by some 100 citizens -- most waiting almost two hours as trustees tended to other business, and remaining until after 10 p.m. to hear the board's decision. In a 10-minute speech interspersed with exuberant cheers, he called dollar stores a "cancer" and "an extractive industry that will suck the lifeblood out of the town."
Markle spoke of the detrimental effects dollar stores have on small, rural communities, how they produce one-35th of the tax revenue that mixed commercial use economies like Paonia's generate, and how they "can withstand years of losses while local businesses slowly close down." Don's Market, he said, "would last about three years." Once opened, "all the benefits go to investors, not communities."
Markle said that communities with strong senses of identity can withstand the effects of a dollar store. He pointed to the town's unique architecture and character, a diverse economy that includes the arts, agricultural, energy, recreation and hunting, and what he sees as a "rare combination of climate, scenery, lifestyle and recreation that brings people from all over the world to share value."
"Paonia is a unique town," he said. "Dollar General opens three stores every day."
Trustees approved putting Markle ahead of two action items: acceptance of an annexation petition for the "Stahl Addition," submitted by Fort Worth-based Vaquero Paonia Partners, LP, and adoption of a resolution initiating the annexation proceedings. n a recent contractors association publication Vaquero requested bids for construction of a 9,100-square-foot "ground up Dollar General" in Paonia. They are requesting C-2 Commercial zoning for the property, which limits building size to 8,000 sf.
Both items were approved, but approval only begins the "complex" process of annexation," explained town administrator Ken Knight. It does not create an agreement to annex the property. The Paonia Planning Commission is scheduled to review the petition on July 31.
Markle has requested that the town annex the parcel under C-1 Core Commercial District, which would, in part, reduce the maximum square footage allowed from 8,000 to 2,500 sf.; or under a Developing Resource District, which permits by right the existing uses of the land at time of annexation -- in this case, agricultural uses.
Markle also requested a moratorium on formula businesses until the ordinance is approved. "Time is of the essence," he said.
While neither the 1996 comprehensive plan nor the Highway 133 plan -- an intergovernmental agreement with Delta County -- are embedded in town code, "Growth is an issue the town has visited for a long time," said mayor Charles Stewart. From 2006-2016, the closing of local coalmines and the downward trend in the economy caused people to move away. Now, said Stewart, things are improving. "We want to protect that."
The questions, he said, is whether the documents currently in place are enforceable. If they are, he asked, "Do they adequately address growth in the area and resolve issues."
Other issues were raised during the hour-long discussion, including water and sewer, pushing the ordinance through too quickly and creating unforeseen problems, and what would happen if the parcel wasn't annexed and Delta County was in control.
Markle said he believes language in the 133 Corridor Plan does address formula businesses. "I think it still rings true," he said. "Nobody wanted this then and nobody wants it now."
Markle said he understands "this a huge complicated matter. That's why I requested a moratorium."
Knight lauded Markle for his plan, saying it would create regulations on formula businesses that would allow for better enforcement than what he's seen in his 26 years of municipal work. He urged everyone to read the Highway 133 agreement, specifically the section addressing the Master Plan vision. Paradoxically, it addresses preservation of Paonia's downtown core, and suggests commercial and industrial development; it guarantees private property rights, and protection of agriculture.
The draft emergency ordinance will come before the board at the regular July 23 meeting. If it meets the requirements for an emergency ordinance in that it protects the health, safety and general welfare of citizens, the board will hold a special meeting to conduct a public hearing and vote on the ordinance. That meeting is tentatively set for Aug. 1. If adopted, the ordinance would go into effect immediately.
Markle said he didn't know what to expect from the board, "But I didn't expect them to be so confident in their direction. I'm very proud of them for what they did."