BRECKENRIDGE - Residents who turned out for a public meeting on the northern McCain property almost unanimously called for the town to restrict development and preserve open space on the parcel widely considered to be the entrance to Breckenridge.
"When you turn the corner ... all you see are mountains and ski areas," Breckenridge resident Lee Edwards said at Tuesday's meeting. "We want that to be the focus of what people see. That's what we're selling to the rest of the world."
Edward's comments and others like them, were met with enthusiastic applause from the crowd of roughly 70 people.
The meeting followed a public outcry after news surfaced that developers were interested in constructing a gas station on the property and a longtime local business on the site, facing the loss of its lease, was ready to close its doors.
A draft master plan for the McCain property would have allowed two small lots on the north side of the parcel to be used for commercial - including banks, office space, retail stores, restaurants or entertainment facilities - or service commercial development.
But many members of the community are now asking that the land be preserved as scenic open space and that existing businesses on the property be grandfathered into a master plan that would not allow additional development.
The majority of local residents who spoke at Tuesday's meeting echoed Edward's comments. An additional 40 online respondents called for open space on the McCain property. When Breckenridge Mayor John Warner asked how many people were concerned about lighting from commercial development impacting the visibility of the night sky in the area, almost every hand in the room went up.
"It seems like you drive 15 miles along the road to Odessa, Texas, with businesses all along the highway," Breckenridge resident Del Bush said at the meeting. "We don't want that kind of a situation up here. ... Pay attention to creating an attractive entrance to the town of Breckenridge. Don't make people wonder how long it's going to be before they get to town."
Town council members were supportive of the public's minimalist vision for the property, with some saying they would even be interested in converting developed parts of the property back to open space when the existing businesses' leases end in the next few years.
"It's easy to take the popular view, and yet leadership sometimes has to take the right view," Councilman Mark Burke said. "In this case, I think the popular view is the right view."
The town is tentatively planning to use the bulk of the property for public projects, including snow storage, overflow parking, open space and a community solar garden.
But the solar garden plan, a project that has been in the works for more than a year, drew almost as much fire at Tuesday night's meeting as the idea of commercial development in the area.
"What isn't appropriate is a massive solar farm," Breckenridge resident Eric Buck said. "People don't come to Breckenridge to see the bleeding edge of technology, or to admire the pioneers of environmentalism."
In a request for thumbs-up, thumbs-down vote on various possible uses for the property, community members resoundingly shut down proposals for a gas station, bank, bowling alley and auto-related businesses. Solar got fairly mixed reviews.
The proposed solar garden would be located on just over 3 acres of land and would be available to members of the community to buy into.
Breckenridge purchased the McCain property from a private owner in 2000. One third of the parcel's approximately $1 million price tag was covered with open space funds. The town intends to preserve and improve the portion of the property along the Blue River corridor.