Pitco’s reservations about Base Village being ignored?
Aspen Times Staff Writer
The Pitkin County commissioners have plenty to say about the frenzy of development that’s being proposed in Snowmass Village, but they fear no one in the town government is listening.
“I’m appalled at the response we have not gotten,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper.
Clapper and the other commissioners expressed concern yesterday over the impending budgetary impact of more than 1.4 million square feet of new residential and commercial development that’s working its way toward final approval in Snowmass Village.
The commissioners are worried that Pitkin County taxpayers will end up covering much of the cost of maintaining the two access routes into Snowmass Village – Brush Creek Road and Owl Creek Road – as heavy trucks and other equipment take their toll once construction begins at Base Village and the Snowmass Center.
As currently proposed, the Base Village project will include 645 free market condominiums, a multi-level parking garage and approximately 136,000 square feet of commercial space. The plan also includes 20 single-family home lots near the Little Red School House and a total of 51 affordable housing units.
The Snowmass Center redevelopment will ultimately expand the existing retail and office center from 53,000 square feet to more than 340,000 square feet of commercial, retail, private club residences and amenities and affordable housing. More than 100,000 square feet of parking is planned in addition.
According to estimates commissioned by developer Intrawest, Base Village, once completed, will increase traffic on Brush Creek Road by 25 percent and on Owl Creek Road by 50 percent.
County engineer Bud Eylar thinks those estimates are low. In fact, he thinks traffic volumes will be significantly higher even in the construction phase.
“Come a year from now, we’ll be looking at a 30 to 40 percent increase in traffic, and it’s going to lock that road up,” Eylar said, referring to Brush Creek Road.
“The question we need to ask is, `Do you have a long-term plan to accommodate all your traffic?” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield, a resident of Snowmass Village who once sat on the Town Council.
County officials are also concerned by an ordinance circulating through the town government that would dramatically cut the amount of affordable housing that either project developer has to include as mitigation for their development.
Currently, Snowmass Village land use regulations require developers to build enough housing for 65 percent of the employees generated by a project. The council may soon trim that down to a 40 percent requirement.
Tom Oken, one of two top managers in the county finance department, said that excluding the cost of maintaining and improving roads, the county will likely break even because of the additional sales and property taxes that come in as result of the project.
He couldn’t say the same thing for the downvalley communities that will house between 780 and 977 employees (depending on whose survey is used) that will be needed to fill the jobs associated with Base Village.
“The impacts are being put off on adjoining communities,” Oken said. “Many of the costs will be borne by the communities where the workers are housed.”
But town officials see things quite differently. They note that demand for the existing affordable housing stock has slackened in recent years.
“We started asking ourselves, `Can we build too much employee housing?'” Snowmass Village Mayor T. Michael Manchester said in an interview yesterday.
Clearly, for him the answer is yes. “There are not very many empty units in town currently, but if we tripled the housing, would we have a significant waiting list? I think so,” Manchester said.
Town manager Mike Segrest also pointed out that the costs and benefits of development at Snowmass Village flows both ways.
While there are associated costs for downvalley communities that house, educate, protect and provide other services for Snowmass Village employees, Segrest noted that the vast majority of people who live in Snowmass Village shop downvalley, generating “cost free” sales tax revenue for those distant jurisdictions.
County officials are also worried about wildlife impacts, what they see as an inadequate parking plan and very different takes on the costs associated with development.
But most of all, they’re bothered by what they see as a lack or responsiveness from a town seemingly bent on approving the development.
The Base Village proposal has been in one stage or another of the approval process for more than a year. But senior planner Suzanne Wolff said the county has yet to have any of the major issues raised in a May 3, 2002 memo dealt with in any meaningful way.
“I disagree,” said Manchester. “Everything they brought up in that memo we asked the applicant to respond to.”
Manchester said final decisions on those responses have yet to be made. “Several issues the county brought up were quite valid,” he said.
When the county commissioners asked for a meeting last November, they were told by Snowmass town officials that the timing wasn’t right. Both Segrest and Manchester said the commissioners were asking for answers they wouldn’t have until the approval process was closer to completion.
Now with preliminary approval (final approval in Snowmass planner-speak) just a few months away, the commissioners are demanding a meeting. But even if they get that meeting, there is no guarantee they’ll be heard by their counterparts on the Town Council.
“This is not really a negotiation between the town and the county,” town manager Segrest said.
And, in fact, the county as a referral agency has very little legal standing with which to influence the project.
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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