Copper development plan heads to BOCC
SUMMIT COUNTY – As Intrawest takes its proposal for new base-area development at Copper to the Board of County Commissioners for today’s work session, it’s clear that the transfer of development rights issue (TDRs) will continue to be one of the main areas of interest and discussion.Under a planned unit development amendment, the Canadian company wants to redistribute existing development rights at Copper Mountain and add 613 new units of “equivalent density,” including everything from a 300-room hotel on what is now the Chapel parking lot, to new condos and single-family units in the A-Lift area at the eastern edge of the resort.The proposal to increase development at the base area raises fundamental questions related to Summit County’s goal of maintaining the current level of density. Several county planning guidelines specify that any new density should only be allowed if it is transferred from somewhere else.Intrawest’s early conceptual proposal calls for a combination of transferring development rights from other parts of the county, combined with other public benefits, which can also be considered as part of a proposal to up density, according to another section of the county’s master plan.A TDR pickle?Intrawest may be in a pickle when it comes to finding enough development rights for the Copper proposal, said Frisco resident Tom Glass, a former state senator and land exchange expert whose Western Land Group has been retained by Intrawest to work on the TDR issue.Glass said there just aren’t that many TDRs out there to begin with, and that the lack of a formal mechanism for transferring development rights between different parts of the county presents a huge stumbling block. Only the Upper Blue Basin and Breckenridge have an established TDR bank for buying and selling development rights, at about $40,000 per unit.”It’s almost ludicrous to be insisting on TDRs,” Glass said. “They (Intrawest) are being held against a standard that doesn’t exist yet,” he added.The county is working on a countywide TDR plan, and planning director Jim Curnutte said that the timeline is to finish up that process late in 2006 or early 2007. Intrawest is hoping to get a decision on the Copper plan by late in the year, so timing could be an issue.Frisco’s town council has not had any specific TDR discussions, although town manager Michael Penny said the town is willing to entertain discussions about a countywide program, but hasn’t heard directly from Intrawest. Silverthorne planners said they have had some early talks with the resort company to look at a potential TDR agreement.”The important thing is, it’s not about Intrawest. The burden is on the county to come up with a TDR program. Everybody is talking the great talk, but nobody is walking the walk when it comes to TDRs,” Glass said. The county’s role”Intrawest and Western Land Group keep trying to cause some confusion (about the TDR issue) said Curnutte, explaining that the county’s land use rules are flexible when it comes to designing a planned unit development.”You can make your own rules. You can deviate from the code,” Curnutte said. “We pointed this out in the last PUD process, when Intrawest tried to use the strictness against TDRs as an argument. The restrictive language in our code is not an impediment to them getting creative,” Curnutte said. There are 613 TDRs “sitting out there,” at least on paper, but Curnutte acknowledged that there may not always be willing sellers. Some property owners may be looking at their own long-term development potential, while others may be thinking that those development rights could become more valuable commodities in the future, Curnutte said.While the county may not have a formal TDR program outside the Upper Blue, Copper’s PUD proposal could include site-specific TDR proposals and intergovernmental agreements between various entities in the county to cover any development right transfers that are proposed, Curnutte said. And since the PUD approval process is likely to lead to a long-term development agreement that includes language on the vesting of development rights, a TDR schedule could be included at the same time, for example, calling for a phased approach to bringing in development rights from other parts of the county.Curnutte pointed out that since Copper still has about 700 units of unused density to its credit at the resort, it may be years before Intrawest has to dip into the proposed new density – if it is approved.TDRs and open spaceCurnutte said there may also be a way for Intrawest to work with the county’s open space program, which also owns some development rights, including about 80 or 90 associated with the B & B purchase. Whether or not there is a way to include the open space program in a TDR program would require a policy level BOCC discussion – something that hasn’t taken place yet, said open space program director Todd Robertson.Curnutte acknowledged there could be some resistance to the concept of selling development rights associated with open space purchases, based on the perception that density is automatically extinguished when open space funds are used to acquire property. But both Curnutte and Robertson said the idea could surface again. Intrawest could, for example, help fund future open space purchases and get credit for the density extinguished by those transactions, or even contribute cash to the county’s open space program. Curnutte said.”We could say, ‘Give us X million dollars, and we’ll take care of buying up density,'” Curnutte said, adding that this is not something that’s been discussed at any length, but only one example of out-of-the-box thinking that could help resolve the density dilemma associated with Copper’s upzoning proposal. “Instead of trying to make it look like it’s so hard, we’ve got to get creative,” Curnutte said, indicating the county’s willingness to work with Intrawest on TDRs. Western Land Group’s Adam Poe said he has been talking with various entities in the county, but couldn’t say for sure if he can round up enough TDRs.”It depends on what’s enough,” he said, adding that one potential deal involved about 33 TDRs owned by Denver Water on the Blight Placer, in the Snake River Basin. “We’re going after the ones that are easily available.”Intrawest is hoping to get some feedback from the BOCC today.”We want some guidance and direction on our initial ideas,” said Laura Goode, public affairs manager for the resort.”We want some solid, general feedback on parking, transportation and density and TDRs. I hope we’ll come out of this with some clear direction,” Goode said.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at email@example.com.Development plan work sessionToday’s preliminary BOCC work session (10 a.m., Summit County Courthouse, 208 E. Lincoln, Breckenridge) is a relatively new step in the county’s planning process designed to enable a general discussion of the proposal. BOCC comments “can not be considered binding or to represent any promises, warranties, guarantees and/or approvals in any manner or form,” according to the staff report prepared for the worksession. BOCC work sessions for large and complex development proposals were authorized under an Oct. 10 amendment to the county’s development codes, partly in response to the long and convoluted planning process that ultimately ended in the July 2004 BOCC denial of Intrawest’s last try to increase base area density at Copper Mountain. The denial was based in part on density concerns, as well as parking and other issues.
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