Frisco hopes to balance growth and character in developing community plan
Frisco is looking to the future.
As the town works its way through the development of the new and improved Frisco Community Plan, a guiding document that will provide the town with a framework for developing policy decisions and priorities over the next several years, one of the main discussions will revolve around housing and land use.
Frisco — effectively boxed in between Dillon Reservoir on the east, highways to the north and west, and U.S. Forest Service property to the south — is running out of land. But for officials and residents alike, the issue isn’t as much about scarcity as it is figuring out how to maximize what space is left without sacrificing the characteristics that make Frisco desirable.
“We have limited capacity for expansion,” said Susan Lee, planner with Frisco. “So we have to look at making the best use of the land that we have. … but I think people appreciate the compact nature of our town. And I don’t think the issue is scarcity, the issue is maintaining character with what we have left.”
Darcie White, a planner and landscape architect with Clarion Associates who is assisting Frisco with the community plan, provided town staff with an overview of the town’s land use capacity at a recent joint meeting between the town council and planning commission earlier this month.
During an assessment of Frisco’s land use, White identified about 20 acres of vacant residential and mixed-use land, enough for another 200 new dwelling units above current capacity. Additionally, White looked into the current use of residential land, flagging more than 320 residential lots built at densities lower than currently allowed by the town’s zoning restrictions, noting the potential for an additional 1,000 new units if all town lots were built to maximum density.
“You have some scattered opportunities with some underdeveloped lots in existing neighborhoods,” said White. “Thinking about residential from an infill and redevelopment standpoint, we did a little deeper dive in terms of thinking about the possibilities you have in areas where the potential is much higher than what’s actually built. You’re starting to see some of those redevelopment opportunities come in, and you may be seeing some single-family homes torn down and replaced with larger projects.”
While the prospect of 1,000 new units may be somewhat intimidating for residents already concerned with traffic volumes and changing character, it’s worth noting that infill and redevelopment projects could take decades to approach maximum build out. Over the last six years, Frisco has averaged just 25 new residential units per year, peaking in 2014 with 37 new units, according to data provided by the town.
Lee also noted that the process of redeveloping some underutilized lots has already begun. While the eventual threat of running out of land has loomed over the town for years, the introduction of land use into the town’s greater conversations is a more recent development. Following slow residential development after the 2008 recession, landowners in Frisco began recognizing potential in the town’s zoning codes to redevelop their land for greater profit and density, somewhat of a catalyst for things to come.
One such catalyst was at 2 Miners Creek Road, the redevelopment of a single-family home into four separate townhomes. Though a legal use, it spurred widespread conversation among nearby residents, and highlighted community member’s concerns regarding Frisco’s character.
“If you drive by today, it’s built out at a much higher density,” said Lee. “I think little parcels like that on both sides of Main Street have been coming into play. If you go down Second Avenue you’ll notice that where 10 years ago there were some vacant lots and single-family homes, now you have much higher density two- and three-story townhome developments. There was a sense of, ‘oh my gosh, I thought we had this really low-density residential pattern that was always going to be these cute little cabins on this lot.’ Now that’s changing.”
So as the process of infill and redevelopment has already begun, the town will be looking at how best to manage that process over the coming years to minimize the impacts on Frisco residents’ way of life. Nothing has been decided, but the community plan opens the door for the town to potentially tweak regulations to produce more desirable outcomes, such as strengthening incentives for affordable housing, giving bonuses for higher quality architecture, altering design guidelines to make sure new developments fit the town’s character and more.
“I think there’s a concern that, if not done well, this infill development could make our town feel different,” said Lee. “We could lose that sort of quaint, friendly mountain community because we’re building higher and more dense, not leaving space for landscaping and public access, or choking off what we love best. We have to be sensitive to that and make sure we have regulations in place to make sure that the buildings coming in are in line with the character we love in Frisco.”
The town of Frisco will be holding a public workshop on the community plan on March 6 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Frisco Adventure Park Day Lodge. The event is meant to provide residents with information drawn from previous public outreach efforts, and to gain feedback on proposed goals and policies outlined in early drafts of the plan.
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