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Dillon’s growth plans bring muted reaction

Aidan Leonard

SUMMIT COUNTY – With the presentation of its proposal to annex Keystone, the town of Dillon opened itself up to the possibility of a deluge of criticism and protest on Tuesday.

So far, it hasn’t come.

If the annexation occurred, it would vastly increase the town’s land area and population, reshaping it from a quiet presence on the county’s political landscape to a rumbling behemoth. If Summit Cove, an area that would already stand as the county’s third-largest town if it incorporated on its own, was included in the deal, Dillon could end up as the largest single town in the county.

Still, the proposal was received with relatively little fanfare by the county commissioners and Keystone-area leaders during the meeting where it was presented. Perhaps more surprisingly, few residents have expressed anything more than a piqued curiosity. Most say they would be amenable to the idea with more discussion.

“I think it’s a very interesting proposal, and it’s certainly outside the box of the kind of thinking that’s gone on before,” said Mark Black, a 15-year Keystone resident. “I think it’s worth taking a look at. It’s a proposal that I don’t think any of us out in Keystone had even thought of.”

“I don’t feel that I could take a stance yet,” said Joan Houlton, a 19-year Keystone resident who said she had no “knee-jerk objection” to the proposal. “I would really like to hear the objections to it stated clearly and comprehensively before I make up my mind (and) join such a position (in favor of annexation).”

Houlton said that with a post office address in Dillon and involvement in the arts community there, she already had a “long-term relationship” with the town.

“I think of myself as part of that town anyway.”

In order for an annexation to take place, residents have to petition the town. Dillon cannot annex Keystone involuntarily, so the attitudes of residents are crucial. And, for the moment at least, those reactions seem to range from lukewarm to approving.

“I’m quite amazed that Dillon has brought it up,” Summit Cove resident Joe O’Malley said. “Usually there are so many turf wars.” O’Malley said just the fact the town is thinking about growth is positive and progressive.

“I tip my hat to Dillon to think of it,” County Commissioner Bill Wallace said.

Wallace said the chances of such an event occurring were still pretty slim and any annexation would “take a very long time.”

But, he said, “I believe in self-governance, I really do. If they decide they want to be out from under the county government – hey, more power to them. That’s great. And we would make do.”

Town annexation has a long history in the county, with substantial plots of land changing hands in recent years.

“That’s how towns grow,” Silverthorne community Development Director Mark Leidal said.

In the early 1980s, Silverthorne itself annexed nearly 1,000 acres in Eagle’s Nest, now known as The Ravens at Three Peaks. Blue River Run was annexed only five or six years ago, Leidal said.

As recently as last December, the town was still looking to annex a substantial portion of land for its Silver Mountain Village project, which was to include a Safeway grocery store, a school, various retail outlets and a residential area. The annexation has been put on hold, sending the school to another site where it has already begun construction. Safeway’s plot, which was already in the town boundary, may still be developed.

Future annexations may include the Smith and Heit ranches, located north of town, which could be developed into residential neighborhoods.

Breckenridge has had its own large annexations, with the Warrior’s Mark neighborhood joining the town only last December. The Wellington neighborhood entered the town as an annexed property and the Highlands put 1,400 more acres into Breckenridge’s portfolio in the 1980s.

In Breckenridge, Community Development Director Peter Grossheusch said annexation has been the strongest means of “enfranchising” nearby residents who already felt a part of the town but were unable to participate in government by holding public office.

Additionally, he said, “you then have regulatory authority over what goes on in that property (and) you get taxation off that property.”

This applies only to commercial properties, however, as sales tax is transferred to the town and property taxes still flow into the county’s coffers.

Among the county’s largest towns, only Frisco has not experienced much growth with annexation in the past few years.

“There has never been a request from a group and a neighborhood to annex and the council does not really have any interest in doing that at this time,” Community Relations Director Linda Lichtendahl said of her nine years working with the town.

As for Dillon, the annexation of Dillon Valley has been hinted at in the past, but Keystone would be one of its biggest changes to date. It remains to be seen how that will play out legally and and how residents will react.

“It’s all in the details,” Black said.

Aidan Leonard can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at aleonard@summitdaily.com.


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