Blue River votes to annex Ruby Placer parcel after heated debate
Amid accusations of bribery, hidden agendas and at least one threat to remove dissenting residents from town hall, the Blue River Board of Trustees on Tuesday night passed an ordinance to annex the contested Ruby Placer parcel for the second time in a year.
Yet the final decision wasn’t as straightforward as a single vote. An emergency ordinance proposed on Jan. 20 failed on Tuesday in a 4-3 decision, with trustee Larry Nelson noting “it’s already been decided on” before casting his nay. Town officials submitted the ordinance on grounds that the annexation is “necessary to the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety.”
Moments after the emergency ordinance failed, the board heard an identical ordinance without the emergency caveat. The final vote of the evening approved the Ruby Placer annexation by 6-1, with trustee Dan Cleary the lone dissenting voice.
The meeting adjourned within seconds of the board’s decision, with trustees and developers splitting to one side of the room as roughly a dozen fuming residents crowded near the main entrance and filed out the door.
“I’m curious as to what the emergency is,” Blue River resident Mitch Weiss said after the vote. “The only emergency I heard tonight is that the developers want to come in and build. There’s a real arrogance — just unbelievable arrogance — that has been shared for quite some time. No one is considered.”
At one point during the meeting, after Mayor Lindsay Backas closed public comment, Weiss and several residents began openly questioning the proposal presentation made by Danny Teodoru, the developer’s legal counsel with Timberline Law of Breckenridge.
“He’s allowed to talk all night and we can’t have a conversation?” a member of the public asked. It was met with several like-minded comments, including one suggestion that the town was accepting bribes to push the development forward.
“You can be quiet or leave,” Backas responded, followed immediately by silence.
“This is not an ultimatum and it is not a bribe,” Teodoru said shortly before the final votes. “We are conferring benefits to the town, and positive impacts for a community are something the state wants us to consider when a municipality considers an annex. These things are not bribes — they’re part of state law.”
THE EMERGENCY ROUTE
The Blue River decision highlights the finicky nature of municipal code, beginning with the emergency ordinance. A super majority of six board members and the town mayor is required by Colorado law to pass an emergency ordinance, yet the definition of “emergency” is broad and vague. Town attorney John Dunn told residents at the meeting that the board can declare an emergency as it sees fit, which quickly became the crux of public outcry.
The board gave the same rationale when the first emergency ordinance was read and passed in July 2014, then by a vote of 4-1. That contested vote was one of several governmental inconsistencies noted by Weiss and former resident Michele Tonti in an injunction filed in Summit County court last September.
On Nov. 12, Chief District Court Judge Mark Thompson sided with Weiss and Tonti, saying the town denied their right to public vote by referendum. The injunction blocked the developers, Cabin Properties LLC and Carl A. Schmidt Living Trust, from moving beyond the planning and proposal stages. It also blocked the town from granting building permits for any construction, including a proposed — and hotly contested — multi-use zone with up to 68 residential units, which is double the maximum agreed upon in the Joint Upper Blue Master Plan.
“It’s not a surprise,” Tonti said following the Tuesday vote. “They had an agenda a year ago and they still have the same agenda. The trustees’ position was clearly decided in February of 2014. There’s no doubt about that. There was not a process, and they came to the table last night with a decision.”
BEYOND THE PARCEL
The board’s decision brings the Ruby Placer parcel into the town. Before the vote, it was part of unincorporated Summit County. Following a zoning hearing on March 17 — the multi-use designation is another hotly contested issue — portions of the parcel will likely see construction activity for roughly a decade, according to a revised impact report filed with the town on Jan. 19.
The impact report is a slightly modified version of the initial proposal and report presented to the town in March 2014. It was tweaked following the first wave of public backlash and Tonti’s successful injunction.
While the Summit County Board of County Commissioners agreed with several portions of the revised proposal, most notably the addition of a Summit Stage bus shelter, BOCC Chairman Dan Gibbs said county officials are still concerned by the high-density residential plans and insufficient details on water supply.
“The comments and suggestions … are intended in the spirit of inter-jurisdictial cooperative planning and shared responsibility for protecting the public interest, quality of life and natural resources in the Upper Blue River valley,” Gibbs wrote in a note submitted to the Blue River board before the Tuesday meeting.
For residents, Gibbs’ points about natural resources became a rallying cry during the public comments section. Weiss and Tonti were joined by Mike Minarski, a Blue River resident and owner of Blue Moose Restaurant in Breckenridge, who also believes town officials overlooked the town’s natural, unspoiled appeal for the promise of a new development.
“It’s disappointing,” Minarski said. “It doesn’t represent the majority of people who live in Blue River, the people who want to live in the high-alpine, pristine wilderness area we have here.”
Residents also pointed to the joint master plan for the area, noting Summit County, the town of Breckenridge and Blue River adopted it to prevent overdevelopment. Yet Gibbs noted in his letter to the board that the document was advisory, not binding — an argument made several times by Teodoru and developers at the meeting.
“I think what we’re doing here is building something that’s more like a town core,” Teodoru said. “You’ll have closer homes with less wasted space, not these cookie-cutter lots that are a certain size. This is really providing a core for the town, and that’s what you like to see in any of the communities up here.”
And with the zoning decision two weeks away, tensions remain high between Blue River residents and their elected officials.
“Nobody objects to the project itself — they object to the way it’s been handled, these side-room deals where no one has a voice,” Weiss said. “Breckenridge is disregarded, Summit County is disregarded, the community is disregarded. At what point do you think of the people around you?”
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