Blue River candidates focus on growth, road safety and short-term rentals during election forum
BLUE RIVER — The mayor and candidates for Blue River trustee discussed growth, short-term rentals, the Colorado Highway 9 corridor and other topics at the town’s election forum on Thursday.
There are five candidates running for Blue River’s three trustee positions: incumbents Mark Fossett and Joel Dixon along with Kelly Finley, Tim West and Martie Semmer. Mayor Toby Babich is running uncontested for reelection. The forum was moderated by Sarah Thorsteinson. About a dozen residents heard from candidates and were given the opportunity to ask questions at the forum.
Growth in Blue River
The trustee candidates addressed the small-town feel that Blue River residents want to preserve, despite being located near the major ski resort town of Breckenridge. Babich also addressed the issue in his mayoral questions and remarks made at the beginning of the forum.
“We don’t want to see density increasing here. We would like to keep the residential character of our town and our neighborhoods intact,” Babich said.
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Thorsteinson asked candidates what their vision for the future of Blue River is as it pertains to growth. Finley acknowledged that growth is happening and the town must adapt.
Semmer said it is essential to step away from development to protect the town’s character and wildlife.
“To growth right now, I say halt, stop,” Semmer said.
West said the board could work with residents to see what they’d like and suggested looking into the possibility of a park-and-ride option or the town getting its own zip code.
“I definitely view our community as a single-family home residential community,” Fossett said.
Fossett added that he doesn’t want to change zoning for higher density or commercial use, preferring to restrict development to single-family homes.
Dixon added context to growth by explaining that of the nearly 900 residential lots in Blue River, only 68 are vacant. He said that as the town is close to being built out, the question is how much the town is impacted seasonally.
“As far as growth goes, what’s most important is that we have proper law enforcement and road maintenance to sustain people here,” Dixon said.
Is there a short-term rental problem in Blue River?
Short-term rentals have been a hot topic county-wide. Town manager Michelle Eddy said short-term rentals take up about 17% of the housing stock in town. While candidates addressed the issues associated with short-term rentals, many acknowledged that it is not as major of a problem as in other Summit County towns.
West said the trustees shouldn’t keep people from making their properties short-term rentals, but added there are ways to be proactive to ensure that the properties are going to fit into the community such as parking and occupancy limits. Finley echoed similar sentiments.
“We can’t tell someone what to do with their property, that’s not our place,” Finley said.
Fossett said short-term rental operations add additional wear and tear to the town, but the tax and licensing fees are an effort to offset the costs.
Dixon said he feels the town has been experiencing more guest stays at current short-term rental properties rather than necessarily a major increase in properties and that town ordinances need to ensure homeowners have certain rights. He pointed out the current policies regarding trash removal and noise and noted the resources available to residents to address concerns.
Semmer said that the town should come up with proactive policies and procedures, adding that the town needs to engage in dialogue with property owners to communicate expectations around short-term rentals.
During the public questions period, people expressed concern over the short-term rental situation. Some community members expressed their frustrations with short-term rental guests disturbing residents. Finley said that based on the discussion, it is clear that short-term rentals are an issue that should be further addressed.
Concerns about Colorado Highway 9
Highway 9, the major highway that runs through Blue River, is a hot topic in town. Mayor Babich listed the topic as one of the major issues in town that needs to continue to be addressed. Thorsteinson asked candidates for their thoughts surrounding the traffic and aggressive drivers on Highway 9.
With the caveat that the Colorado Department of Transportation has jurisdiction over the roadway, she asked what candidates would do to encourage CDOT to take action and what actions candidates would take.
Current trustees Fossett and Dixon spoke to their experience working with CDOT on this issue. Fossett pointed out that CDOT is run by engineers that make decisions based on statistics. He said that the recent addition of a proper police department in Blue River, which now includes four full-time police officers, will help show Blue River-specific roadway data. Dixon said that the town has asked CDOT to lower the speed limits through town but had not yet made any progress on this.
“I think that the lack of road maintenance, it’s kind of absurd,” West said.
Finley said she believes the town is moving in the right direction with the increase in law enforcement and that the town needs to engage more with CDOT. Semmer said there needs to be a reduction in noise pollution.
Blue River town elections for will be held on April 7.
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