The Garfield County commissioners voted unanimously early today to deny the rezoning request for Sanders Ranch.
The decision came at 12:30 a.m., following some 13 hours of presentations and public hearings on the controversial development proposal that would put what amounts to a new town between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.
Commissioner Larry McCown of Rifle made the motion to deny the rezoning. Commissioner Walt Stowe seconded the motion, and Commissioner John Martin made it unanimous.
McCown made his motion to deny based on five findings of the county’s own planning staff, which also recommended denial. Those five findings were:
The project has no general conformity to the county’s comprehensive plan.
The applicant had not demonstrated there was any error in the original zoning or any change that would have demonstrated a need for a rezoning.
There is no appropriate relationship of the project with the surrounding area.
The proposed Planned Unit Development does not ensure that the final project will adhere to the plans and drawings presented.
The proposed mixed use of both commercial and residential development is not allowed in the underlying zoning.
The vote to deny brought a round of cheers and applause from the crowd of 75 or so people still on hand. Many had been following the all-day proceedings since their start at 9 a.m. yesterday. More than 400 people signed up during the day to speak for or against the proposal to build 561 homes and 300,000 square feet of commercial space.
The commissioners’ denial doesn’t necessarily deal the death blow to the proposed development on the 280 acres of ranch land at the intersection of Cattle Creek Road and Highway 82, almost exactly halfway between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale. It may instead trigger a lawsuit from the developers.
The evening session of public comments featured mostly a parade of speakers urging commissioners to deny the rezoning request based on several oft-repeated arguments: that it does not conform with the county’s comprehensive plan; represents a threat to quality of life in the valley; would increase traffic on Highway 82; would suck away property taxes from Glenwood and Carbondale; and would cost taxpayers to provide services to the new community.
The phrase “just say no” was either repeated or alluded to perhaps 50 times in the six-hour evening hearing.
During their daytime session, commissioners also heard from a slew of elected officials from municipalities from Basalt to New Castle.
Carbondale Mayor Randy Vanderhurst and Glenwood Springs Mayor Sam Skramstad shared a podium to speak, and the Carbondale trustees and Glenwood Springs council members stood behind them in a long line of support.
The mayors strongly opposed the project, citing sales-tax leakage, plenty of land already approved for commercial development and the burdens to provide services to an urban development in an unincorporated area of the county.
“We have shown up in force today to show you the commitment the two councils have. This rezoning and PUD is inappropriate between the two cities,” Skramstad said.
“Do you really want another Battlement Mesa with the same headaches, the same service demands?” asked Vanderhurst. “As taxpayers, we do not. Sanders Ranch is the wrong project in the wrong place.”
Also earlier in the day, the developers of Sanders Ranch claimed their project not only complies with the county comprehensive plan, but is a unique development that anticipates and meets the needs of a growing valley.
“We believe this project meets the county comprehensive plan and PUD regulations,” said Jim Lochhead, the Glenwood Springs attorney who represents Sanders Ranch developer George Hanlon.
Lochhead also took aim at the relative value of the word “consistent.” Development plans are meant to be “consistent with the goals and objectives of the comprehensive plan,” he told commissioners. Retail and residential mixed use are consistent uses. The comprehensive plan and the county’s land-use map, which outline future land development, do not preclude other uses, he said.
“To deny commercial as precluded [in the comprehensive plan] is to ignore the intent and vision of the Planning and Zoning Commission when it adopted the comprehensive plan,” Lochhead said.
But before Hanlon’s representatives got the chance to bend the commissioners’ ears, Garfield County Planner Mark Bean got in the first word at Tuesday’s hearing, and that word was “deny.”
Bean cautioned the commissioners that once the planned unit development is approved, the remaining process – subdivision review – “is nothing more than a technical process.” The present application by Hanlon’s Sopris Development Group amounts to a request for a change in zoning from the underlying agricultural/ rural/ rural density to planned unit development (PUD) zoning in which uses other that those granted in the underlying zoning would be defined.
“The uses and intensity of the development are defined by the PUD,” Bean said.
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