Sign variance is what Palisade needs to boost its economy

In response to the Sentinel’s editorial “Palisade sign variance is a moment of truth,” I would like to suggest some important things to consider in evaluating the upcoming decision regarding Golden Gate Petroleum’s sign variance, which, as the editorial acknowledges, is of vital importance to the town of Palisade.

I would argue that the Board of Trustees, by upholding the wise decision of the Planning Commission — which after thorough debate and consideration, approved a variance for a 60-foot sign on a 6-1 vote — will be doing the right thing to help preserve and protect the “unique visual environment and pastoral oasis” and in fact the agricultural and tourism viability of the community.

Palisade businesses need more visitors. Grande River has one of the best locations there is and yet we starve for customers at times, particularly in the off season. There has been a lot of capital invested in the Palisade area in the last three decades, developing vineyards, wineries and many other agriculturally based businesses, but some questions remain about the economic sustainability of some of these businesses, which is what is necessary to keep the land in agriculture in the long run. In most cases, I believe the key to sustainability is more sales. To get more sales, we need more customers.

As I testified to both the Planning Commission and the Board of Trustees, I’ve been on the corner of Interstate 70 and Elberta for almost 30 years and I think a major fueling station is the best economic opportunity for Palisade that I have ever seen. Having more tourists in Palisade offers an opportunity for every business in the town to benefit, supporting more jobs in the community. Killing this project would make Palisade the loser, by not maximizing the opportunity that is a good fit.

We are fortunate in Palisade to have a long history of strong and committed town leaders that continues today. The dedicated group you referred to worked hard about 10 to 15 years ago to develop the land use and development codes that contain the sign regulations. I think they had the right idea in trying to avoid giant Eastern Plains style road signs. Anyone who looks closely at the proposal by Golden Gate however, can readily see that it is not such a sign!

This sign, even at 60 feet, barely peeks out above the trees and the I-70 roadbed, which is at 47 feet. Sure, the 60-foot number seems big, but it simply has no meaning out of the context of the ground elevation of site where it is erected and the elevation of the road. The sign is sized and lit to be visible to a driver less than one-half mile before the exit. At 65-75 miles per hour, that isn’t a lot of time to see it, make a decision and exit safely. It’s really the minimum needed.

I believe understanding the implications of the elevations and how they would impact the effectiveness of the signage simply wasn’t on anyone’s mind at the time the land codes were written. A 20-foot sign height seems tall and might be more than adequate for signage on the commercially zoned lands along U.S. Highway 6 for example, but not in this particular location of I-70.

It seems to me that the intention was likely to give the business 20 feet above the level of the road for signage. At the Golden Gate location, that would make the sign height 67 feet, rather than 60. So there is already a compromise built into the Golden Gate proposal.

This demonstrates that they aren’t trying to somehow take advantage of our community, but rather they just proposed what was needed to get the job done, because of the peculiarities of the site. As I mentioned, anything less fails to get them above the trees, which are not on their property, as well as to a level to give travelers (especially westbound) an opportunity to see the sign in time to make a safe exit. Why would we want to have someone build a project like this and hobble it by not giving them the tools they need to be successful?

Making a well-reasoned exception in this case in no way locks the town into any future variances, so there is no precedent. The Planning Commission and the Board of Trustees hold all the cards and will make all the decisions. So the town remains solidly in control of whether or not any variances are granted. I’m sure they will decide those cases based on the facts and circumstances of the proposal, just as was done in this case.

The editor’s comment about the project just adding “a few low-skill jobs” is hard to understand given the economic malaise and hardship the Western Slope has been through the last 10 years. Golden Gate Petroleum is a fine company, with deep roots in the Grand Valley. I believe there are many who would proudly work in those jobs and that they would make a substantial contribution to the economy of Palisade.

But the larger point of this economic opportunity goes far beyond just the jobs that the store will add. It is said that at least 20,000 cars per day pass that exit. If we can just pull a small percentage of that traffic off I-70 and give them some introduction to Palisade, many may look around at the beauty and visit other businesses at the same time. Some may take a bottle of local wine, beer, cider or spirits or a peach, other fruit or locally prepared food product with them and experience the intensity of flavor that our products are famous for. I believe that will bring them back for sure.

Palisade is a very special place and its residents, business owners and their employees are right to be concerned about all the big decisions the town makes. But we have trustworthy leaders who tirelessly work to evaluate and make decisions in the town’s best interest.

After a lot of study, debate and consideration, the Planning Commission and the Board of Trustees have made a very good decision for our future, one that has the potential, rather than being harmful to us, to support businesses by solidifying economic viability in our agricultural and tourism-based economy. I ask the Board to stand by their good decision. I ask the community to seek out the information they need to answer their questions and be assured that this is a good decision for us all.

Stephen Smith is the founder of Grande River Vineyards, located in Palisade at Interstate 70 and Exit 42.


COMMENTS

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There is a clear solution to this dilemma: keep the 20 foot limit on signs in Palisade and the business instead can pay an annual fee to have the big blue gas station signage put up on both sides of I-70 that tells motorists heading both directions that gas is available at Exit 42. It’s called “Tourist-Oriented Directional Signage” and there is a private company that sells and installs the signs: http://www.colorado.interstatelogos.com/state/
Problem solved: the signage stays within the current law and drivers find out that gas is available at Exit 42.

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