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Breckenridge, county to trade development rights for affordable housing

Caddie Nath
summit daily news

BRECKENRIDGE – In an effort to preserve the basin’s community character, planning and government officials are infusing the Joint Upper Blue Master Plan with strategies to reduce the valley’s development potential as they update the document.

The Upper Blue Basin includes unincorporated Summit County from Farmer’s Korner to the Hoosier Pass summit as well as parts of the towns of Breckenridge and Blue River. The master plan serves as a guiding document for planning and development in the basin, used by the Upper Blue Planning Commission, the Summit Board of County Commissioners and the planning commissions and governments of Blue River and Breckenridge as a reference for planning decisions.

As they work to update the now 13-year-old master plan, elected officials’ and planners’ hope to cut build-out potential in the Upper Blue ride on a set of density reduction strategies. The strategies include a proposed policy that would require the county and the Town of Breckenridge to retire the development potential for some property as they develop affordable housing on other property.

The strategy would require both governments to retire one density unit – essentially a unit of potential development on a property – for every two units that are developed for affordable workforce housing.

The strategy is intended to help offset the increased activity caused by new affordable-housing units by setting aside property to be left undeveloped. The total number of density units in the Upper Blue Basin is frozen under the existing master plan, but new density units can be created only to accommodate affordable housing.

“At the time the original Upper Blue was written, (affordable housing) was more of a dream than a reality,” Breckenridge Councilman Eric Mamula, told the SDN in December. “Now that the kind of intense attainable housing that the towns and the county do are a reality, we can’t continue to just make that density out of thin air.”

Altogether, 389 publicly held density units would be eliminated by the strategy.

“It all stems from trying to preserve and maintain the community character and quality of life (in the basin),” said senior county planner John Roberts.

Both the Summit Board of County Commissioners and the Breckenridge Town Council agreed to support the measure, but the council was divided, with three out of seven opposing the idea.

When Breckenridge and the county retire density, they give up the right to sell the space to a developer or to develop the land themselves at any point in the future.

“This is taking potential revenues from future town governments, future citizens of this community and throwing it in the garbage can,” Councilman Mike Dudick said. “I think it’s incredibly shortsighted to destroy assets with the stroke of a pen.”

As a compromise Breckenridge discussed putting density units into a theoretical “lock box,” – locking them up, not to be sold or developed unless the council takes special action to do so at some point in the future – as an alternative to extinguishing the units all together.

The commissioners discussed other ways to handle the density reduction requirements, including retiring units that might never be used anyway, sometimes called “phantom” units.

The density reduction strategy would only apply to Breckenridge and the county, not to private developers.

Planners and officials in Upper Blue Basin are looking at other density reduction strategies as well, including “natural” reduction processes and asking Breckenridge and the county to voluntarily extinguish density units.

A single unit of density can translate to a single-family residence, 1,000 square feet of commercial space or lodging or multi-family buildings of limited square footage. The exact limitations on a density unit vary based on local zoning. The value of a single unit varies as well, although a backcountry density unit is valued at approximately $46,000.

Officials will look at an initial draft of the Upper Blue Master Plan update in early March and are planning to host an open public forum to discuss the updated document later in the month.


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