Plans for Copper Mountain base area draw scrutiny on worker housing |

Plans for Copper Mountain base area draw scrutiny on worker housing

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Employee housing was one of the key items during a Board of County Commissioners work session Tuesday, as Copper Mountain seeks approval to make major changes to its base area zoning plan.

“I think we’re pretty close,” said Copper spokesperson Lauren Pelletreau. County planners and the resort have come close to reaching agreements on employee housing counts, she added.

One reason the housing issue is critical is that the resort still hasn’t fulfilled all of its housing obligations under its existing 2001 planned unit development (PUD).

So the commissioners scrutinized Copper’s latest redevelopment plan with an eye toward ensuring that the resort provides adequate housing for its workers.

“One of the key things we need to be looking at is how we count employees and what their employee numbers are,” said County Commissioner Thomas Davidson.

Copper currently uses a different calculation than Keystone, the other major resort under county jurisdiction. At Keystone, a person working more than 20 hours per week is counted as a full-time employee. At 20 hours per week or less, the person is a half-time employee for purposes of establishing employee housing requirements.

At Copper, a full-time employee works 30 hours per week. Employees who work between 16 and 30 hours are considered half-time employee. Copper doesn’t include people who work less than 15 hours per week in the calculations for employee housing, Davidson said.

The upshot is that Keystone could theoretically be required to provide housing for a higher percentage of its workers than Copper.

“Personally, I think if there is going to be a difference there has to be a darn good reason,” Davidson said. “We want to make sure there is equity … that we’re using the same yardstick for both places.”

Pelletreau said the resort’s housing plan includes several components, including seasonal employee housing at The Edge (the former Club Med), integrated deed-restricted units sprinkled throughout the resort, a proposed enclave near East Lake that is part of the PUD proposal, as well as the potential purchase of 50 off-site beds.

“It sounds like they’re very close, if not surpassing the employee housing requirements that exist. I’m much more comfortable with it than in the past,” said County Commissioner Tom Long.

“The thing that’s really important is that (Copper) is offering a voluntary real estate assessment (a transfer tax),” Davidson said. The revenue could provide ongoing funding for housing and other community needs, he added.

“I hope others are watching. I like where they’ve set the bar. We’ve got significant ongoing needs in the community,” Davidson said, adding that statewide TABOR limitations have limited the ability of local governments to meet those needs. Voluntary measures like the one proposed by Copper could fill that gap, Davidson said.

“To put it in a nutshell, it’s a much more cooperative attitude,” said Commissioner Long, contrasting the overall tone of the current work session discussions to previous rounds. “They’re interested in doing things based on feedback from staff, from the BOCC and the community,” Long said.

Copper wants to redistribute 591 units of unbuilt density to new locations within the base area, eliminate 45,000 square-feet of commercial space allocated under the current PUD and re-allocate 86,000 square-feet of commercial density to areas with high pedestrian traffic.

Other parts of the plan include a high-rise hotel on the site of the current Chapel parking lot and ending the use of Copper Road for short-term parking in time for the 2009-2010 ski season.

As part of Tuesday’s work session, the BOCC looked at the resort’s public benefits package, meant to mitigate the impacts of new development.

“It’s hard to distinguish between public benefits and things they would have to do anyway,” said County Commissioner Bob French. “They say they’re going to fix up the roads and sidewalks. Wonderful. But they’re going to have to do that anyway,” French said.

Public benefits are used as a way to sweeten the pot ” to make the development plan more approvable, according to Davidson.

The key issue for the BOCC was to ensure that the resort lives up to its commitment to provide those benefits, even if resort management or ownership changes, said Pelletreau.

The way to do that is to build legal requirements into the legal zoning document, not just for public benefits, but for other components of the plan like employee housing, Davidson explained.

The PUD proposal also includes some impacts to wetlands, to be mitigated by a two-to-one ratio. The BOCC was comfortable with the plan to enhance existing wetlands and create new ones, citing a net gain from the design.

Davidson said it doesn’t always make sense to require a wetlands setback from a stream that has already been heavily impacted by development and public use. Instead, he said the public could benefit from a design that enhances public access to a stream, similar to the Riverwalk area in Breckenridge.

The PUD proposal would also increase the total amount of public open space at the resort from 27.7 to 55.1 acres, mainly through the dedication of the so-called north parcels, across I-70.

Long said the dedication of those parcels is an important step in preventing resort sprawl from straddling both sides of the interstate as it does in the Vail area.

Pelletreau said the resort will use the feedback from the work session to develop its formal PUD submittal and bring it back for BOCC approval early in 2008.

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