In Deerbrook Townhomes review, council considers: How big is just big enough? |

In Deerbrook Townhomes review, council considers: How big is just big enough?

Applicant must submit an updated sketch plan with fewer new units for approval, officials say

“Just big enough” is the guiding principle of development in Snowmass Village — an idea that growth should only happen when necessary and within the framework established in the town’s 2018 comprehensive plan.

How big is “just big enough,” exactly? It’s an answer Town Council and the Planning Commission have yet to quantify.

That unknown leaves developers of the Deerbrook townhomes in a state of trial and error as they seek approval to build several new units in addition to the existing 15 located off Wood Road near Assay Hill.

“If you’re asking for a number, I don’t know what the number is,” Councilman Tom Fridstein said at a Jan. 4 town council meeting.

The applicant proposed six new residential units in a sketch plan brought before council Jan. 4; they also sought a rezoning classification from the current Special Planning Area designation to a Multi-Family designation.

During the “general consistency” review, council considered the proposal’s overall alignment with the principles of the comprehensive plan rather than its compliance with specific building codes.

Council’s conclusion? Generally speaking, the sketch plan lacked the requisite consistency.

The Snowmass Village Planning Commission already determined the proposal was inconsistent with the comprehensive plan last year and requested a new sketch plan with fewer new units; rather than go straight back to the drawing board, the applicant decided to seek input from council, Community Development Director Dave Shinneman said in an interview.

But council affirmed the planning commission’s decision Jan. 4, suggesting that a 40% increase in residential units exceeds the “small amount” of addition permitted by the comprehensive plan.

Neither council members nor the planning commission have specified exactly how many units constitutes a “small amount.”

“We’re not going to give you a particular number, but we’d like to have you come back and show us an alternative,” Mayor Bill Madsen said.

Deerbrook developers were hesitant to reduce the number of new units proposed because sales of those residences were initially intended to offset the cost of extensive exterior renovations to the existing buildings in the subdivision, according to Tim Malloy, the land-use planner representative for the development. The current structures are more than 30 years old.

But the project has grown since its initial conception, said project coordinator John Howard.

The sketch plan also includes new amenities for Deerbrook residents: underground parking, ski lockers, a fitness center. Even with the six units requested, it’s unlikely that the development will fully bankroll the exterior renovations or the proposed additions, Howard said.

“This was going to be a tough nut to crack,” Howard said. “I don’t think they’re going to see any significant amount of money back towards the cost of the exterior renovation, which is what sparked this whole project.”

Even so, Malloy argued that there is a community benefit to the new amenities and units. The comprehensive plan includes incentives for upgrades to outdated structures, Malloy noted; one of those incentives could be some “flexibility” in the guidelines for growth and development.

“I think that there’s been an assumption that some level of flexibility, some level of give and take between developers and the town was expected and anticipated,” Malloy said. “The whole idea of this renovation is to change the orientation of this development. … We’re trying to make ourselves competitive.”

That shift in orientation has sparked concerns for neighbors in the Ridge townhomes and Timbers Club subdivision. Several residents submitted public comments expressing worries about the possible impacts the new development may have on nearby areas: hillside stability, mountain views, traffic and density were among residents’ concerns.

But the project is still in its earliest stages; the sketch plan is one of the first steps in the planning process, Shinneman noted.

And that elusive “small amount” of development could be anything shy of the proposed 40% increase. Developers will have to submit a new sketch plan to find out if they are closer to the “just big enough” mark.

Approval of the sketch plan, when it does eventually occur, will allow the applicant to move forward to the preliminary plan stage.

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