Carbondale wonders, how long is too long for development rights?
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE – Though Carbondale has been reviewing an unusual number of large development proposals – especially given the economic recession’s crippling effect on construction in the valley – whether ground will be broken anytime soon on any of them is a big question mark.
For that reason, proponents of the various projects have all requested a longer period for the vested development rights to remain in effect than is normally allowed.
The vesting period and phasing schedule was a topic of discussion when the Carbondale Board of Trustees took up final consideration last week of the proposed Thompson Park annexation and zoning that would allow up to 80 residences.
The project was given preliminary approval in December. However, the town is still working through the final details with developer Frieda Wallison on a range of issues before final approval is granted. One sticking point is the vesting period.
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Carbondale’s normal vested rights provisions allow three years from the time a project is approved until construction is to begin. Extensions can be granted under certain circumstances for two years at a time, up to 12 years total.
However, given the state of the economy, even that time frame sounds daunting, Wallison offered.
“Under the current circumstances, that is something we are very scared of,” she said at the Feb. 2 town council meeting when her project was discussed. “We’re just not sure when the credit market will open up, and when people will want to buy houses again.”
Complicating matters with the Thompson Park project, in particular, is the planned dedication of the historic Thompson House for a public museum, as part of the project’s open space requirement. The house is to be deeded to the Mt. Sopris Historical Society, and that transfer is likely to happen within six to eight months of final approval, Wallison said.
Also under consideration is a cost sharing arrangement between Thompson Park, the school district’s teacher housing project and the town to pay for a $1.5 million roundabout on Highway 133 to mitigate traffic impacts from the various projects.
Wallison said she doesn’t want to be in a position of having made upfront dedications and payments, and risk losing development rights later if other timelines aren’t met.
“We’ve all been in this process for a long time, and to have a sunset on this is really concerning,” she said.
Instead, Thompson Park proposes that vesting be extended in perpetuity, as long as certain timelines are met for installing infrastructure and other improvements.
Some trustees, as well as town attorney Mark Hamilton, had concerns with that approach, especially since it could set a precedent for future development proposals, and also tie the hands of future town boards.
“I don’t see how we can make an exception to our vesting rules,” Trustee Frosty Merriott said.
Vesting rights were a concern when the developers of the proposed 145-home Overlook development requested a time out last fall before proceeding with hearings on their plan.
The Overlook is asking for a vesting period of between three and seven years, while town staff is recommending limiting it to the normal three years. However, certain expenses related to off-site improvements are also being requested, making it a potential deal-breaker.
“I don’t see where a reasonable board wouldn’t extend that if there is an economic concern,” Trustee Stacey Patch commented last September when the Overlook proposal was last heard by the trustees.
Other projects in the valley have been granted extended vesting periods, including the 110-home Stott’s Mill development in Basalt. That project was given five years, with the right to extend it an additional five years if the economy doesn’t improve.
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