LYONS – Costco is not coming to Lyons. Neither is Walmart or Furniture Warehouse. Don’t worry about the Donald, either. There will be no Trump St. Vrain down the road from Clark’s Hardware. The sky is clear. Corporate vultures do not soar over Lyons, looking for easy pickings.
Some people in Lyons, town leaders we all admire and respect, seem to have a bit of a phobia about alleged corporate buccaneers staking a position in Lyons. That fear could stall the progress Lyons has made in recent years. This article will explain one perspective about how our community can be harmed by overreaction to unnecessary fear.
Options: Town government has done a masterful job of reducing expenses. There is no fat left in the budget. The economic crisis continues. As water tap revenue phases out, we have two options left.
Bad Option: Town government will be forced to balance its budget the hard way – by raising money from increased fees and taxes while also reducing services it provides to our community.
Good Option: On the other hand, the town could encourage development of our commercial sector. New businesses would increase the commercial activity that supports town government with sales taxes and property taxes.
Opportunity: The logical focus is economic development in a zone called the CEC (Commercial East Corridor). That underutilized area stretches along the highway from the McConnell Bridge/Stone Canyon intersection past the stoplight all the way to the Longmont water treatment plants.
Nearly all of this land is in Boulder County – but not part of the Town of Lyons. It is an area of great economic potential. Parcels of land within the CEC can be annexed into town. They can be developed commercially, thereby increasing the tax base.
Strategy: Lyons is establishing policies that welcome and encourage CEC annexation and new business development. If successful, this will give investors renewed confidence in Lyons. Those investors can provide the community with new job opportunities and enhanced tax revenue. It can reduce our need to drive to other communities to shop or obtain services.
Risk: If town government fails to attract investors with new business-friendly policies, those people will continue to invest their resources in towns that provide more support and less risk. We will lose the benefits they could bring to our community.
Resolution: Lyons has been making progress in many areas of economic development. The focus is now on the CEC. Under consideration are two very different approaches to CEC development. The conflict between them is an important policy issue for town government. The stakes can be enormous. The way that issue is resolved should be of interest to every resident of our community.
Viewpoints: At the request of the Board of Trustees, a subcommittee of the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) and the Economic Development Commission (EDC) is attempting to resolve the differences between the two approaches. One is a formal bureaucratic approach called Formula Business. It is embodied in a proposed policy that is already before the Trustees. The other is a less radical approach which, for want of a better name, might be called Community Expectations.
Formula Business: This concept, contained in a proposal already presented to town government, holds that Lyons must preserve its virtues with a policy that bars certain kinds of companies from moving into the CEC. It calls for the Board of Trustees to define a category of companies called Formula Business. The proposed definition of Formula Business is pretty much a synonym for a franchise company.
Before a company that might be a franchised operation (Formula Business) can move into the CEC zone, its owners must apply for a process called Conditional Use Review. This review will determine, on a case by case basis, whether the Formula Business (franchise) is acceptable to town officials and can become part of our business community.
The proposed policy recommends criteria to identify a Formula Business. Oddly, once a business has been labeled the policy does not recommend the criteria by which an application from that company will be judged. So the applicant cannot know in advance the standards it must meet or the kind of evidence that will be credible. That imbalance seems like declaring all Formula Businesses are guilty, but then giving them a hearing to prove innocence. Didn’t Alice encounter a similar quandary during her visit to Wonderland?
Despite its shortcomings, this process does provide room for negotiation. Town officials can require adjustments in the way a business will operate. If accepted by the applicant, those adjustments will allow a Formula Business to establish itself in the CEC. But here is the problem: among the items that cause the town to attach Formula Business (franchise) label and demand a Conditional Use Review are things like standardized signs and standardized menus and standardized employee uniforms and standardized logos. If the cause of its problem is the fact that it is a franchise, how then does an applicant un-franchise itself, abandon its identity and become acceptable to those guarding the CEC?
A good many people, including the author and members of the Economic Development Commission, believe the Formula Business coupled with and Conditional Use Review is a clumsy tool. This group favors a less bureaucratic approach to distinguishing between companies that are welcome in the CEC zone and those that are not welcome. Since it has never been officially named, I will call it the Community Expectations approach.
Community Expectations: How about presenting a statement of Community Expectations as a simple, straightforward method to identify appropriate business neighbors – franchise or non-franchise?
Whether a company in the CEC is owned by a Lyons family or by a corporation in Omaha, it can give us problems. Whether a company in the CEC is a franchised operation or was created by one of our neighbors, it can give us problems. Any company that wants to establish in the CEC could be too large for Lyons or pollute the environment or have a crummy reputation or drain the town water supply or have committed a moral outrage or demand too much parking space or have really ugly signs or make too much noise.
Instead of fearing unspecified corporate predators with franchised business models, shouldn’t town government just decide what characteristics we want and don’t want in our business community and then enforce those criteria?
Third List: The town already has a list of permitted uses, zoning language for pre-approved businesses. Offices and small stores are in the pre-approved category. So are museums and schools and day care centers. The town can easily build the second list of companies it will not allow in the CEC. Start with large chemical plants, steel mills, topless bars, slaughter houses, retail stores that are too large, state prisons, pig farms, crematoria, automobile dealerships, and whatever else town officials want to prevent from locating in the CEC. By building a second list the business community will know who is allowed to play in the CEC and who is forbidden to enter.
Those two lists leave a big space in the middle. We need to fill that space with a third list: a comprehensive statement of community expectations. Potential investors could review that list of criteria and see, right from the beginning, what the town expects of them. They will have questions. This list will answer those questions. It would spell out standards for CEC development.
Results: Many of us believe creation of an artificial distinction between franchise and non-franchise enterprises is lazy and fairly illogical path to effective public policy. We also believe the Formula Business scheme is a great way to further discourage those who would invest in our town and contribute to our essential economic development.
On the other hand, a set of Community Expectations for development in the CEC would reassure investors, invite new business neighbors and better meet the needs of economic development in our town. To us the community expectations approach seems so simple. And so equitable.
Progress: Lyons is finally becoming a business-friendly, sustainable community. If town leaders continue to produce the secret sauce, the recent sense of economic vitality and opportunity will continue to evolve. Look at the ways we’ll all benefit:
Property owners, business people, lending agencies and investors will see that a business-friendly government has reduced the risk of doing business in Lyons. Their confidence in the town will grow. They will be more willing to become stakeholders and change-agents who construct new buildings, upgrade existing ones and bring new services and retail stores to the CEC.
We’ll all be able to shop locally for more goods and services in town, rather than drive to Longmont or Boulder. We’ll benefit from convenience, reduced travel expense and increased energy conservation.
A mobile market consists of tourists heading for Estes and our neighbors who live in the canyons. They will have less reason to drive through town without noticing. Instead, they will finally have multiple reasons to stop in Lyons and shop conveniently.
Increased commercial activity by residents, tourists and canyon neighbors will generate greater sales tax revenue. (How nice it would be for our sales tax to pay for our own local government services rather than support Boulder and Longmont governments.)
Once dormant land and underperforming buildings will have enhanced value that generates increased property taxes that also support town government.
Bottom Line: Lyons is safe! The CEC will not be under siege by large corporate undesirables. But the CEC sure does have great potential for small businesses owners. Those small business owners are our neighbors. They take great risk when investing in our community. Lyons has the capacity to welcome them with a clearly articulated policy that makes it easier for them to accept the hazards of owning a small commercial enterprise in the CEC. If Lyons adopts that approach, new enterprises will generate increased taxes to support town government.
The Formula Business approach is a way to kill an imaginary mouse with a cannon. That cannon will vaporize the make-believe mouse. But there will be substantial damage to the very real economic floor on which on which the nonexistent mouse was allegedly perched. Lyons can better support its government and meet the needs of its community if the Board of Trustees adopted simple, welcoming and affirmative economic development policies.
Members of the Economic Development Commission will write occasional articles for readers of the Redstone Review. Commissioners include: Tom Douglas, Chair, Joshua Buster John Burke, Karen Ekblad, John O’Brien, Robin Young and Tamara Jarolimek
John Burke and his wife Janis Gavan own VisABILITY. They do some product fulfillment for public radio stations, but they are not a fulfillment company. They are the national supplier to the public radio system of products used in fundraising and marketing programs.Back to Top