Business battle in store for Palisade

When the Palisade Town Board unanimously authorized Town Administrator Tim Sarmo to sell a slice of town property for development last month, it did so in a way that town officials say allowed them to legally skirt rules that otherwise would have delayed the sale.

The ability to immediately offer to sell the property to a development company that intends to bring a Dollar General store to Palisade helped ensure valuable sales-tax dollars wouldn’t be funneled to another community, officials argue.

“We feel very confident we’ve met every requirement for this to be a legal action of the board,” Assistant Town Administrator Richard Sales said.

But a citizens’ group that has formed in opposition to the national discount retailer contends the Town Board violated its own municipal code by acting so quickly.

The disagreement concerns a section of the town’s code that addresses the enactment of town ordinances. Ordinances normally don’t take effect until 30 days after they’re approved and published in a newspaper.

The town’s code, though, makes exceptions for emergency ordinances “calling for special elections or necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety.” In those instances, the ordinance takes effect immediately if it’s approved by three-quarters of the board.

Derek Stephens, a member of Citizens for Smart Growth, questions the legality of what he and others consider a too-broad interpretation of what qualifies as a matter of community health and safety.

“That’s certainly a point of contention,” he said. “A real-estate deal doesn’t appear to affect public health, safety or special election, pretty clearly.”

Sales, however, said he believes selling property to a new businesses relates to the community’s welfare, and that it’s common for municipalities to complete land transactions under emergency provisions.

Asked whether an ordinance selling town property constitutes an issue of public health and safety, Town Attorney Ed Sands said, “I think those kinds of things are always judgment calls. It’s probably how you define health. This was seen as economic health.”

Sands said the Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled it’s up to the town’s governing body to determine what necessitates an ordinance being pushed through immediately, and court justices won’t second-guess that decision.

Palisade Mayor Roger Granat said the quick sale of the property will enable the town to provide some assurance that the Dollar General building will appear aesthetically pleasing, something not guaranteed if it sets up outside town limits.

“If the town had not acted quickly on this, we could have had a metal building setting up at (Interstate 70) with a black and yellow sign,” Granat said. “Is this the kind of entrance we want into the Palisade area? I don’t think so.”

Citizens for Smart Growth is continuing its battle against Dollar General on other fronts. The group is circulating a petition that, among other things, seeks to keep Dollar General or any box store from opening in downtown unless approved by voters. As of Wednesday evening, 139 people had signed the petition.

The group plans to create yard signs and T-shirts that read “Palisade is worth more than a dollar,” Stephens said.

The ruckus over Dollar General has prompted the town to invite Citizens for Smart Growth and town businesses to participate later this month in a forum intended to generate ideas on enhancing the town’s business climate.

“They are interested in supporting our local business environment as well as inviting new businesses to our area,” Sales said of town trustees. “The board very much wants people to know that Palisade is interested in a very healthy and vibrant business community.”

The forum is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. March 24 at the Palisade Veterans’ Memorial Center.


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