Development transfers under more scrutiny
SUMMIT COUNTY – It was a controversial issue originally, and it’s likely to be one again.
Members of the Lower Blue Planning Commission say they’ll again explore the idea of transfer of development rights (TDR) to keep new projects near existing development. While most residents of the Lower Blue like the idea of TDRs, they can’t agree on where to put those transferred densities, and finding those sites is vital to making the program work.
With a TDR, density can be transferred from one property to another. Generally, that means land valued for its scenic beauty can be preserved, while the density allowed on that property can be moved to another parcel. The parcel that receives the TDR is typically a better site for development, in many cases because it’s close to existing subdivisions or buildings. TDRs are used to prevent sprawl, an issue of paramount concern in the Lower Blue basin.
About a year and a half ago, when the Lower Blue Master Plan went through its latest update, residents objected to the idea of establishing a transition zone – an area in which density tapers from the more urban Silverthorne area to the rural Lower Blue – near Maryland Creek Ranch. The 1,050-acre ranch borders Silverthorne on the north and is now partially developed as the home of the L.G. Everist concrete and asphalt manufacturing plant.
But Mark Truckey, long-term planner for the Summit County Planning Department, said the subject didn’t get the scrutiny it deserved then. The TDR and transition zone proposal was just one portion of the Lower Blue Master Plan update, and Truckey said the commission wants a chance to “isolate the issue and give it attention by itself.”
TDRs are not new to Summit County. In the Upper Blue Valley, the program has been in effect for a couple years. There, it allows developers to move density from “sending” sites – generally scenic or unbuildable areas in the backcountry – to “receiving” sites, which are closer to the urban core.
In the Lower Blue, that urban core is Silverthorne.
Silverthorne is being petitioned to annex portions of two ranch properties that border its north side – the Smith and Heit ranches. Development is proposed for both parcels, and those plans have set off a flurry of controversy among area residents.
Silverthorne senior planner Michael Johnson said he doesn’t think the county should count on Silverthorne’s accepting any TDRs.
“We’d have a hard time convincing our citizens to allow more density,” he said.
But county officials said there are other potential receiving sites that aren’t close to Silverthorne.
County Commissioner Bill Wallace recommended the Lower Blue Planning Commission evaluate all the land from Silverthorne north to the Grand County line to see if it’s suitable for receiving density. In the past, many residents asked the commission to keep development far enough away from highways 9 and 30 that it would protect that view corridor. That, he said, is a reasonable goal. But master plans can’t protect every view.
“There are residents who want to preserve the views of their front window,” Wallace said. “If they want to preserve their view, they’ve got to buy it.”
Truckey emphasized that nothing will be decided without plenty of discussion.
“It’s not to say we’re going to create receiving sites in the rural area,” he said. “The community was pretty sensitive about not wanting more density in that area. We need to explore the options that are out there and find out, “Is there any common ground or not?'”
Truckey plans to form an advisory group that likely would include citizens, landowners and planning commissioners to discuss the issue. Those meetings likely would be open to the public, with larger community meetings to follow.
Truckey admitted TDRs aren’t the perfect solution.
“This is not … our panacea to preserve all our ranch lands,” he said.
While TDRs are now an option in the Lower Blue, no one has yet taken advantage of the program.
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