Carbondale annexation, historic house dedication still alive
CARBONDALE – Just when Carbondale’s town trustees thought they had a plan for the proposed Thompson Park annexation and eventual residential development that they could work with, the deal changed yet again Tuesday night.
But a project that likely would have been denied months ago, were it strictly a residential development proposal, remains alive, primarily in the interest of historic preservation.
The proposal to annex and apply residential zoning to the roughly 10-acre site in what’s known as the “county island” along Highway 133, would include dedication of the 123-year-old Thompson house and adjacent grounds as a public museum and park.
The Carbondale board voted 5-2 Tuesday against a motion to deny the application, and instead continued the public hearing until May 10.
The plan has garnered significant public support, mainly because of the opportunity to put one of the Carbondale area’s original homesteader structures in the public trust.
Carbondale trustees showed up at the Tuesday meeting prepared to consider a scaled-back plan by developer Frieda Wallison that would include 30 residential units. Earlier plans had called for as many as 85 units.
But given a planning staff recommendation that the developer pay a range of fees for highway improvements, park development and initial maintenance and operations costs to run the museum, Wallison said she needs 45 units to cover it all.
“At that number, we have a shot at making this work,” Wallison told the board. “At 30, it didn’t work. I’m presenting something that I know I can do, and I don’t want to present something that I know I can’t do.”
Some trustees expressed frustration that the number of units changed again, after town planner Janet Buck spent time evaluating the 30-unit plan and ultimately changed her earlier recommendation for denial to one of approval with conditions.
“Part of what appealed to me was the lower density at 30 units,” said Trustee Pam Zentmyer, who ended up agreeing to continue the hearing until next month.
“I’ve also heard a lot of people say, ‘Save the house,’ but I’m not sure that having the town take on the house is going to save it,” Zentmyer added. “We don’t have the budget to take care of something like that.”
The town has proposed taking ownership of the house, but have the Mount Sopris Historical Society operate the museum. That arrangement has not been determined.
“The house is an asset, but I don’t know if it’s enough to get this project over the hurdle,” Mayor Stacey Bernot said.
Bernot supported Trustee Elizabeth Murphy’s motion to deny the project. It was the second time in the lengthy review process that Murphy has called for denial.
“I continue to question if this project is right for this time, and whether we can afford to do this,” she said. “I don’t think this should be based on preserving the house, and try to fit this in at a time when it would not be appropriate.”
Other board members felt differently.
“We are trying to cut a deal to save the house,” Trustee John Foulkrod said. “It’s just a matter of coming up with a timing scheme that works.”
Also at issue for Wallison is a staff recommendation to stick with the town’s usual three years of vested development rights. Wallison has asked for up to five years before she would be required to start building houses.
“We are confronting a situation that’s the same for other developers right now, where we cannot access financing,” she said. “The market, especially in this part of the Roaring Fork Valley, is virtually non-existent.”
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