|How to Brew a Muddy Parking Lot Issue, Part Three|
|Bill Hudson | 4/5/12|
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|Read Part One|
The lawsuit between Tony Simmons, owner of Pagosa Brewing Company, and Robin and Frank Schiro, owners of Pagosa Pubworks Brew Pub, began in the spring of 2008, and according to the order published by Judge Marcia Krieger, United States District Court, it appears that the lawsuit might be settled — as of March 29.
Mr. Simmons had the lawsuit papers served to his neighboring competitors, Mr. and Ms. Schiro, just a few days after the couple officially opened their new brewpub on North Pagosa Boulevard, just across the street from a vacant property that Mr. Simmons would purchase about six months later to convert into a parking lot for his ever-expanding brewery operation.
But before we explore this curious lawsuit and its possible impacts on the commercial landscape of North Pagosa Boulevard, let’s return to the March 20 Board of County Commissioners meeting, and listen to some beer loving customers and supporters of Mr. Simmons urge the BoCC to grant a variance that would leave Mr. Simmons’ parking lot unpaved for... five years? In perpetuity?
One of the confounding details of this controversy: Mr. Simmons owns his dirt parking lot on North Pagosa. But he leases the property on which his brewery and eating establishment sits. Theoretically, that lease could be terminated at some point, and Mr. Simmons would be left owning a paved parking lot that serves some other person’s property.
Probably not the best way to arrange one’s business operations. But this is Pagosa, and people don’t always plan things in the most rational way, I have found.
Commissioner Clifford Lucero noted that, if the commissioners decided to grant a variance for Mr. Simmons, based on simple “economic hardship” (which is not listed in the Land Use Code as an acceptable excuse, as I understand it) then the BoCC might have a hard time refusing the same variance to nearly every “struggling” business in Pagosa Springs for the next decade or so.
“You suggest that we would not be setting a precedent,” said commissioner Lucero to attorney Robbins. “But in a way, it is setting a precedent for us [commissioners] because someone will come to us and say, ‘Well, Pagosa Brewing was allowed to do this...
“So we have to look at everything. So I have to disagree with you there when you say it won’t set a precedent. Because for us... we need to be cautious in how we proceed with this. That’s why we’re trying to be thorough as we can, and ask the right questions. Because a couple of years down the road, this [same issue] could come up again, and we will hear a lot of the same arguments.”
Then Mr. Lucero asked if there were any members of the audience who wished to speak in favor of the variance request. About a dozen citizens took their turns at the podium; here are a few short, random selections from those comments:
“For full disclosure, I have been known to have a few beers at Tony’s brewery...”
“This is a colossal amount of money, and it doesn’t add a lot of value to Mr. Simmons’ business, quite frankly...”
“In case you didn’t know, Tony’s reputation is international. We’ve been to breweries in England that knew about Tony’s brewery here...”
“Yes, you can spend some money on asphalt now, but you’re going to create an additional runoff problem whenever it rains, and over the next years, the asphalt will crack; it will split; you’ll get frost damage; and you will incur an ongoing maintenance problem. It’s a lot better to try and maintain gravel than it is to try and maintain asphalt roads. Look what it takes to maintain the asphalt roads in Pagosa; it’s a real headache...”
A string of citizens stepped up to the podium at the March 20 BoCC meeting and pleaded for approval of a variance that would have allowed Pagosa Brewing Company to retain its parking lot in an unpaved condition.
“It’s going to cost him $50,000 to $100,000 to pave that lot, and it’s not really going to help his business. And he’s still expanding; if he could spend that money to purchase equipment, that would be a whole lot better...”
“Pagosa is a mountainous rural community, and gravel parking lots, gravel driveways, and gravel roads, is certainly an acceptable standard that is accepted around here...”
“Tony has put Pagosa on the map for our tourists, and I’ve got people coming into my business asking for a good place to drink, or what have you, and he’s always been recommended. I have other people come in and compliment his business. I totally support this variance request...”
One of the last citizens to speak on behalf of Tony Simmons’ variance request was Jim Stone, who own the Buffalo Inn next door to Pagosa Brewing on North Pagosa Boulevard, (a relatively successful restaurant and bar, from what I can tell as a regular customer and as a musician who occasionally plays music in the Buffalo's bar on weekends.) Mr. Stone told the commissioners that he had spent about $78,000 paving his parking lot back in 2007.
“There are more things that need to be addressed here, other than paving. The drainage, for one. The drainage is coming from Highway 160, down through Tony’s, and making his parking lot into a puddle, and my parking lot [next door] into a stream. I paved my parking lot in 2007; I wasn’t require to do that; I didn’t know there were any rules or regulations to have parking lots paved. I made the decision, as a business owner, to do that. We have gone through almost four years of pure hell in this town. It’s nobody’s fault; it’s a world economy. Usually, downturns last 6 months to a year. We’ve had four years of a downturn. And it has hurt everybody..”
Based on the testimony we heard from the public, I was left with the impression that there exist some major drainage problems on the west side of North Pagosa Boulevard, and those problems might be caused, at least partially, by the paved highways and roads in the vicinity. As I’ve discovered while writing about our County roads and Town streets in recent Daily Post articles, asphalt paving might solve certain problems over the short term — muddy messes during a rainstorm, for one — but it can cause even larger problems, if not properly drained and maintained. Proper long-term maintenance of drainage systems and of asphalt surfaces is absolutely necessary, but it is not cheap.
And because asphalt does not allow rain to soak into the soil, asphalt can cause its own, sometimes serious, drainage issues.
Apparently, however, the estimated price of parking lot improvements — about $92,000 — which Mr. Simmons provided to the County commissioners included not only paving and drainage, which is required by County regulations, but also the cost of new sidewalks and lighting.
Commissioner Steve Wadley asked about the light poles shown in the price estimate. County planner Cindy Schultz responded:
“Just to clarify. The light poles are not required. I’m not sure why they are included. Some of the other things included in the quote are not required.”
“So it’s really not $92,000 to come into compliance,” noted commissioner Wadley. “What about the sidewalk? Is that necessary, Cindy?”
“It’s not,” she replied.
There was a long and slightly uncomfortable silence, as the commissioners considered the idea that they may have been presented with an artificially inflated price quote.
Read Part Four...
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