Zoning should be a case-by-case decision

By Clyde Davis: Local columnist

It was couched under fiction, but a cursory reading revealed that it almost had to be factual. A brief Internet research time confirmed that to be the case.

Mountain Gazette, a no-frills chronicle for outdoor lovers, carried the original story.

In a ski town in Colorado, a ski town in fact located not very far from us, as miles are measured in the southwest, the choices of jobs prior to 2002 ran the usual and predictable gamut.

In brief, if you want to live here, the message was, you can work at a pancake house and a hotel, or a hotel and a convenience store, or a convenience store and — you get the picture.

The message is not a bad one, but is in fact quite a normative one for anyone choosing to live in a recreational area. The privilege is that one gets to live in an area close to one’s passion of outdoor sports; the tradeoff is two or more jobs of less substantial income.

Until 2002, when a middle aged entrepreneur set up a workshop building quality wooden and metal sleds, based in part though not entirely on the old Flexible Flyer patterns.

The business expanded from a workshop to a small building, and several additional woodworkers were hired to keep up with the demand.

In time, the demand outgrew even those capabilities, and the owner/manager subcontracted with a Chinese company to produce a cheaper but still good model, while keeping the handmade, one of a kind sleds rolling from this town, which is located not too far from Colorado Springs.

By now about 15 skilled craftspeople were employed, along with support personnel, and the business found it necessary to move again, this time to an abandoned building in the town’s main area.

That was when the problem started. Zoning was geared to the historical and the recreational, and the owner made the mistake of applying for his permit under “manufacturing.”

Fast forward to October of 2009, when the crew which works at the main shop reported to work to find that the town zoning commission had posted a closing notice on their place of employment.

Yes, their place of employment where they make good wages, work with skills which they have trained to use, and only have to work one job to live in Any-ski-town, USA, because that one job affords a decent wage.

To top it all off, it was the height of Christmas rush, with orders running tight to be filled on time under the best of circumstances.

There is no sad ending — no ending yet at all.

The company obtained an emergency waiver to continue to work on Christmas orders, and in the eyes of most town decision makers, it simply calls for a rewrite on the zoning permit.

Convince the powers that be that it should have been labeled “craft”, that each sled is a one of a kind product, and the shop will continue working. In the meantime, they are still working under the waiver.

There are, however, a few die-hard powerbrokers who believe the business is inappropriate, that it interferes with the fairyland atmosphere of the town. If by some chance they get their way, the shop will have to relocate.

The skilled woodworkers will either have to relocate, or take a job bussing tables, and another job working night shift at a lodge, and another — you get the picture.

There is a lesson for all of us, in this story.

Image is not everything — and besides, what better place to make snow sleds?

Zoning of any kind should be malleable, taking into account individual scenarios. The few in a small town should not decide, in every instance, what is best for the many — especially based on imaginary standards.

And yes, economics is based on vision, skill, and hard work.