By Bill Tiedje
Ridgway Town Council voted to remove the Streetscape ballot question from the Nov. 5 election during a special meeting held on Sept. 5, after hearing strong opposition from business and commercial property owners.
Mayor John Clark said he called the meeting after hearing concerns from Tammee Tuttle, owner of the True Grit Cafe, and Darin Hill, owner of Mountain Market, on Sept. 4.
The Plaindealer questioned whether the meeting had been properly noticed in compliance with the Colorado Open Meetings Act.
Town Manager Jen Coates said she had posted notice of the special meeting at 7:15 p.m. the previous evening on the bulletin board in Town Hall after the meeting with Hill and Tuttle.
Hill addressed the council on behalf of an "organized" group of commercial property and business owners in strong opposition to the Streetscape bond question and said the group was prepared to "have the town plastered with signs" and picket town hall and was funded to defeat the ballot question if it was not removed from the Nov. 5 ballot.
"We're not here to negotiate," said Hill.
Hill said he believed 95 to 99 percent of Ridgway business and commercial property owners were also in opposition to the Streetscape bond question.
"We are not against growth," said Tuttle. "But it’s too big of a bite to chew, placed solely on the backs of commercial property owners."
Jim Kronberg, a longtime community member, stated that he felt the ballot measure was flawed without a cost benefit analysis. Kronberg questioned why funds were not set aside to hire a consulting group to estimate the increase in economic activity that would be created by the Streetscape ballot question.
Susan Baker, owner of Lupita’s Bizarre Bazaar, added that she was forced to cut her building's rents significantly and cover all utilities to keep her building full in the last five years. Baker said she was concerned whether small businesses would be able to stay open if she had to increase rents as a result of the Streetscape bond question.
Councilor Jim Kavanaugh responded, "I have never heard this degree of opposition from business and commercial property owners."
Kavanaugh stated he had supported the idea in order to create a downtown hub which would strengthen the sense of community, but he never wanted to go forward if it created conflict among the community.
Kavanaugh said he was okay taking the Streetscape bond off the ballot but asked the business and commercial property owners present if they would stay involved and support similar future downtown improvement projects.
Councilor Ellen Hunter said the Streetscape project had been scaled back by one million dollars and stated that the CDOT RAMP was a one-time funding opportunity that would go away.
Hunter noted none of the business owners were at the meeting when the ballot language was adopted. She also conceded that the wording of the ballot question looked scary but said she believed the wording was determined by the Colorado Taxpayer's Bill of Rights legislation.
The issue of leveraging funds from CDOT was also raised by Councilor Rick Weaver, who stated he had previously lobbied to postpone the ballot question until April, but it became apparent that some funds would be available only if the ballot question were passed in November.
"I moved here because I like the people," said Weaver. "The last thing I want is a divided community."
Councilor Eric Johnson stated he was comfortable with the bond question remaining on the ballot after the long process of community input.
"I think it should go to voters," said Johnson. "If you want to influence it, that's your right. If it is defeated, that's the way it goes."
"It is important to say business is the lifeblood of our town," said Mayor John Clark, contemplating how he would explain the removal of the ballot question to neighbors and friends who supported it.
Clark, who was not present at the last meeting when the ballot question was adopted, stated his vote would not be counted except in case of a tie.
The motion to remove the Streetscape bond question from the Nov. 5 ballot was passed by the council majority, with Hunter and Johnson abstaining.
Streetscape committee chairs Jill Markey and Paula James were not present. James was reached over the phone but declined to comment.