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Cortez food pantry and farm co-op plan move

Planning and zoning board approves permit
Sam Green/Cortez Journal<br><br>Cindy Stuckman stocks the shelves at the Good Samaritan Center building on Ssouth Beech Street during the food pantry’s move there in 2013. Now the pantry’s director says it has outgrown that building.

On Tuesday the Cortez Planning and Zoning Board approved a permit that will allow the Good Samaritan Center and Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative to open a joint distribution site on North Beech Street.

Good Samaritan, a food pantry located at 25 S. Beech St., and the co-op, which distributes and markets local produce without a headquarters, submitted a joint application for a conditional use permit to move into 20 N. Beech St.

Part of the building would become the new Good Samaritan Center, while the rest would operate as a central distribution center for the co-op. More than a dozen people attended a public hearing at the planning and zoning meeting to show support for the move.

Kristen Tworek, director of Good Samaritan, said the pantry has been considering a move for some time because it was outgrowing its old building. She said the pantry served 801 people in November. A week ago, the building’s landlord asked the pantry to leave by February so the space can be used for other purposes, she said.

“In the last few months, we provided food to 13 percent of Montezuma County residents,” she said. “I can’t stress enough how important a larger space is, to meet the demand we are seeing as it continues to grow.”

The co-op has a similar problem, representative Laurie Hall said. Although it has been selling produce from its 20 member farms in Montezuma County for about three years, the organization has never had a building where its growing number of customers could shop for food or pick up their wholesale orders. Hall said she believes the new building will benefit both the pantry and the co-op.

“We were drawn to this property because of its location, open interior, roll-up truck doors, and because the building owner is supportive of our goals – goals that will ultimately benefit downtown Cortez,” she said in a prepared statement. “We have an opportunity to simultaneously grow our local food economy and address the nutritional needs of our residents.”

The building is owned by Mitchell Toms of Montezuma Partners, LLC.

Members of the planning and zoning board asked Tworek and Hall about how their new location would affect traffic in the area, especially since the Children’s Kiva Montessori School is located on the same street and shares parking space with the building. Both organizations expect to receive delivery trucks on a regular basis – Good Samaritan currently gets deliveries once a month – but they told the board they would schedule the arrivals so that they don’t conflict with students’ arrival at school. Good Samaritan plans to keep its current business hours of noon to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. The co-op plans to be open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Several planning and zoning members expressed their support for the two organizations, especially Good Samaritan.

“They do so much good, they have such an impact on this community, that I think it would be a crime to let that go to waste,” chairman Danny Giannone said. “I think it’s something we need to support as much as we can.”

Three people spoke during the public comment section of the hearing to ask the board to approve the permit. Nina Williams, one of the farmers who make up the Farm Fresh Co-op, said a distribution center in Cortez would make it easier for her to reach local customers.

“I see this project as a win-win for everybody here,” she said. “Right now, the bulk of my wholesale markets are restaurants in Telluride and Durango, and I would really like to be growing food for people here in this community. This is a way that our community can support access for local produce.”

The planning and zoning board voted unanimously, with Ken Brengle absent, to approve the permit. It will go to the Cortez City Council for final approval in January.

Other action

During the meeting, the planning and zoning board also:

Voted on whether to comment on four county development requests submitted to them by the Montezuma County government. The board voted not to comment on one request and voted to recommend denial for one and approval for the other two. Heard a brief update from assistant city planner Neva Connolly on the process to amend special exception regulations in the land use code. She said her research on the subject has been slowed due to short staffing in the planning office.Voted to approve the installation of a virtual golf feature at an existing fitness gym at 2310 E. Empire St.

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