Summit County open space, housing needs on collision course |

Summit County open space, housing needs on collision course

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. ” A quest to find land for affordable housing is colliding with the desire to increase open space in Summit County, as planning commissioners take preliminary steps toward rezoning undeveloped parcels.

The basin-by-basin review is part of a countywide push to identify parcels that could be suited for affordable housing, according to county planning director Jim Curnutte.

Some of the parcels identified by county planners have open-space values, such as serving as buffers between developed areas. But none of them have been purchased with county open-space funds, Curnutte said.

He downplayed the potential for controversy but acknowledged that some of the parcels could be good future open-space purchases.

In some cases, the parcels could serve both uses, he added, singling out the privately owned parcel near the entrance of Summit Cove where the poolhouse is located. That piece of land could accommodate some housing and fill a need for a community park at the same time, he said.

“I don’t see why that property couldn’t do both,” he said. “We’re not changing the zoning or master-plan designation,” he said, explaining that the current process is aimed simply at determining whether the parcels might, at some point, be suitable for affordable housing.

Any future rezoning or development proposal would be subject to additional hearings.

Still, members of the county’s Open Space Advisory Council are watching the process closely.

The issue has been discussed with “some seriousness,” said real estate agent Art Girten, a member of the open-space board.

“There is some concern, but also a certain level of trust,” Girten said. “We certainly have discussed this. People on OSAC are aware that the ideal pieces of land don’t exist for affordable housing. We’re reluctantly aware … that this could involve parcels that were purchased as open space. We’d want to see fair market value.”

He’s suggesting that affordable-housing developers pay for the parcels and that the money be reinvested in other open-space purchases.

Summit County Commissioner Tom Long said the process is a needed step in addressing the county’s housing needs.

“If we’re going to walk the walk and talk the talk … then yes, we need to do it,” Long said. “And it might fall into someone’s definition of open space.”

As an outgoing commissioner. Long spoke freely about the need for towns and the county to work together on the housing issue. Too often in the past, the various communities have been at odds, he said.

“Everybody tries to stick everybody else with what they don’t want,” Long said said. Breckenridge, for instance, always tries to make sure that any industrial or dense developments end up in Silverthorne, he said.

“If BS was music, we’d have a brass band when it comes to the housing market,” Long said.

The county has an obligation to step up and play a role in finding potential sites for workforce housing, he explained.

“If we want to live like we live in these communities, skimming the cream from visitors … then it’s the responsibility of our community ” the county ” to demonstrate that there are opportunities to create housing,” Long said.

It’s not unheard of for the county to buy land to be used for “other purposes.” The parcel where the hospital now stands was once a national forest tract with a de facto open-space zoning.

The county acquired it in a trade, and some residents of nearby neighborhoods raised the open-space issue when plans for the hospital surfaced.

A handful of residents said at the time that they felt the process was misleading and that they were under the impression that the county had acquired that particular parcel as open space.

County officials at the time said the tract was acquired specifically as a site for the needed facility.

Those questions shouldn’t arise in the current process, which is being conducted openly and subject to comment and review at a series of public hearings. Lower Blue planning commissioners, for example, will scrutinize potential affordable housing sites at tonight’s meeting.

The issue will be on the agenda at every planning commission meeting for the next few months, with three hearings set for each basin.

A staff report prepared for the Lower Blue meeting targets several areas, including redevelopment and infill opportunities in Wildernest, a 27-acre parcel near Silverthorne Elementary School and the lands currently zoned for agriculture on Daley/Heitt Ranch, overlooking the Lower Blue valley from the east.

A second tier of properties in the Lower Blue are deemed to be “on the fringe of being good locations” for affordable workforce housing, according to a staff report from the planning department.

Those parcels include the 14-acre Arnold property and additional lands east of Maryland Creek Ranch, as well as 8.2-acre Penfield property, across from Silverthorne Elementary.

Earlier hearings before the Upper Blue and Ten Mile planning commissions also identified parcels that could fit into county affordable-housing plans.

Curnutte said the planning commissions in those basins approved all the sites identified by the planning department. The Upper Blue commissioners even added a couple of potential sites, he concluded.


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