Silverthorne delays approval of contested Maryland Creek Ranch parcel
March 14, 2015
Maryland Creek Ranch timeline
2001 — Silverthorne Town Council amends comprehensive plan, sets density limit at one unit per 5 acres
2005 — Town approves first South Maryland Creek Ranch proposal for 71 units on 355 acres
2007 — Town approves revision to SMCR proposal after addition of 61 acres, bringing density to 84 units on 416 acres
2014 — Town hears second revision to SMCR proposal, calling for 240 units on 416 acres
Source: Town of Silverthorne.
A hotly contested development planned for the northern end of Silverthorne is now on temporary hiatus after dozens of residents pleaded with town officials to stall construction, citing everything from impacts on wildlife and conservation to the threat of urban sprawl much like the Roaring Fork Valley.
For nearly three hours, the Silverthorne Town Council heard from locals opposed to the South Maryland Creek Ranch proposal, a residential development that has seen one zoning change and grown by 60 acres since it was first brought to the town in 2005.
The second and most controversial update was proposed nearly a year ago in May 2014. When submitted, it received hardly any fanfare despite a noticeable increase in the number of homes: Developer Maryland Creek Ranch wanted to triple the original number of units, from 83 units on 416 acres to 240 units on the same amount of land.
Along with the addition of a private pond and 20-acre park, the newest version of the proposal boosts density from one unit per 5 acres — a ratio first agreed upon in 2001 when the town revised its comprehensive plan — to 0.57 units per acre.
By 9:30 p.m., the council opted to postpone a decision for 60 days, giving the developer time to revise its plan and wade through mounds of community concerns. The final vote was 4-2, with Councilmembers Peggy Long and Stuart Richardson against further delays to the approval process.
Before the developer and owner Tom Everist can move forward with planning on the 10-year, multi-phase project, the council must approve all changes to the planned unit development, or PUD, the document that oversees density and zoning.
During public comment, the developer's new density proposal drew ire mostly from residents, many of whom felt blindsided by what they feel was a seemingly underhanded change.
"Many people are very angry," said John Hillman, a board member with Friends of the Lower Blue River and one of the first residents to speak out against the revised project. "I've heard the term 'bait and switch' used, where people aren't happy the town agreed to 83, only to now hear 240 units. You could tell from the tone of some people at the meeting that they are just furious."
For Hillman, who represented FOLBR at the meeting, expanding from 83 to 240 units would drastically change northern Silverthorne for the worse, not the better.
"It seems to me that maybe we can live with a few of these things, like more traffic on Highway 9, but our main concern is we don't want the Lower Blue to become another Roaring Fork Valley," Hillman said. "We would lose not only a local treasure, but a natural treasure. This really is an incredible portion of our mountains and we were happy with the original plan."
While Hillman agreed with a few of the developer's beautification and traffic-control concepts, such as a new junction at Game Trail Road and Highway 9, he sees Maryland Creek Ranch as a "transitional gateway" to Summit County. He argued that tripling the number of homes might open the door for further expansion, including potential development on the 600-acre parcel north of South Maryland Creek Ranch that's currently unincorporated.
"There's a great incentive to sell off land and develop it," Hillman said. "That's the profit motive, and it's a respectable, honorable motive, but it will always be there. I think it takes citizens such as ourselves to apply some counter pressure to the profit motive because it is just so fierce."
PROJECT FOR A NEW MARKET
Hillman's sentiments were echoed by nearly everyone who took the dais, including local architects, landscapers, business owners and former Silverthorne Town Council members like Eli Robertson, all of whom live on the northern edge of town.
Early in the evening, a handful of heated comments were directed at Everist, who also owns local sand supplier The Everist Co. Mayor Bruce Butler reminded the audience to be respectful before hearing project details from the developer's finance director, Joanna Hopkins.
Hopkins dug into details for phase one of the project as they were proposed in 2014. The plans call for three different types of units, the majority of which are detached single-family homes arranged in clusters. It's a departure from traditional rural planning, where parcels are chopped into equally sized blocks, much like a checkerboard.
When asked for details on the proposed build-out, Hopkins said her team plans to begin selling lots late this summer. Once sold, construction on 15 to 20 homes would begin this autumn, with families moving in as soon as the spring or summer of 2016. From there, the decade-long project would roll forward at a rate of 20 to 25 units per year, ranging from single-family homes in the 3,500-square-foot range to larger, custom-built "estate lots."
Hopkins and Everist told the audience their density plans changed in 2014 following the economic downturn. In the 2005 proposal, the developer believed 84 units would appeal to an affluent — and exclusive — demographic. Now, the revised density allows for a more inclusive community, the developers claim, with housing that's attractive for the young families drawn to Summit.
Very few residents spoke in favor of the project, but all echoed the developer's arguments for affordable, inclusive housing.
"They want something they can handle easily, manage easily and afford, while they can still be in the mountains," said Larry Lunceford, a local landscape designer who isn't tied to the project yet but hopes to be hired as a contractor at some point. "The demand for products has shifted, so I can see why they've shifted their focus from a few large homes to more of these smaller, more affordable and attractive homes."
A COMFORTABLE MIDDLE GROUND?
While most residents adamantly opposed any construction on the parcel, several suggested compromises, such as finding a new number of units between the original 84 and proposed 240.
The council members also urged residents and the developer to find a middle ground.
"They can take some good planning that's been done, some good bones on this project, and this gives them a chance to engage some of the stakeholders here, to engage some of the neighbors," Butler said. "There is definitely an agreement that can be reached."
Peggy Long was the sole supporter of the project as presented at the meeting. She admitted that her stance was unpopular, particularly after hearing feedback from residents, but she said the town should continue to grow — just as it has since it was home to 400 people in the '70s, when her family was nearly alone on farmland around Maryland Creek Ranch.
"I see this project as a new face-lift for the market today," she said. "I think it will be a good economic driver."
As the discussion closed, she left the audience with a final thought on the ever-changing face of Summit.
"Mom had seen it all," Long said after sharing a story about her mother. "She'd gone from the horse-and-buggy days to the space age, but one of the things she always said is, 'Now you know how the Indians felt when they saw growth.'"
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