Frisco residents resist ballot measure that would authorize workforce housing on “pocket park”
Frisco’s town council candidates are running unopposed this year, but the town’s election is still stirring up some controversy as it pits workforce-housing needs against density and open space concerns.
Ballot Question 2B would effectively strip the old community center lot on Third Avenue of its “pocket park” designation, allowing the town to build at least a dozen affordable housing units there.
The measure stems from a recommendation by the Frisco Housing Task Force, an advisory body that identified the lot as one of the town’s best options for quickly building affordable housing. If 2B passes and the project moves forward, it would be built with the 5A sales tax fund approved by Summit County voters in 2016.
But the measure has gotten a chilly reception from some residents, who argue that the town shouldn’t give up one of its last open spaces for workforce housing when it has other potential build sites available —including the empty Sabatini lot across the street.
On Monday afternoon, as light snow fell, a half-dozen people gathered with signs in front of the Frisco Post Office to demonstrate against the measure.
“We have other choices besides giving up the community center and open space,” said Pam Brodt, a Frisco local who helped organize the opposition group Save Frisco’s Pocket Park.
In a mailer sent to residents, the group argues that Frisco has a limited number of parks despite recreational amenities being rated as a number one priority in a 2015 town survey. Building at that location would also “increase density in an already overly-dense corridor of Frisco,” the group argued.
The community center itself has also become a flash point, with some residents urging the town to revitalize the old building.
“The bigger issue is this is our only community center,” said homeowner Steve Beck. “Once it’s gone it’s gone, and it’s right in the pedestrian corridor of town… there are dozens of things it could be used for.”
The lot is one-quarter of an acre, and the pocket park covers about half of that. The small green space, including a bench and a public grill, was made a pocket park in the early 2000s, a designation that can only be changed by voters.
Last year, at the request of the Frisco Town Council, the housing task force evaluated more than a dozen town-owned properties and determined which had the most promise for building workforce housing. In November, the task force returned with concept developments on four lots, including the community center. The task force recommended the community center and another property at the Frisco Historic Park and Museum as the most viable options to quickly address the need for workforce housing, which has pinched hiring at local businesses. Construction on both could start this summer.
“The Town Council chose both of these properties as best suited for immediate delivery of housing,” task force chairman Mark Sabatini wrote in a letter to the Summit Daily.
He continued: “One of this community’s biggest challenges is securing affordable, workforce housing in Frisco. Please obtain the correct information before making your vote.”
Town staffers aren’t permitted to take public positions on ballot questions. But town manager Randy Ready said that other potential lots, specifically the Sabatini and a nearby parcel owned by the Colorado Department of Transportation, would take a lot more time and money to bring online.
“This is something we could do immediately to start putting a dent in the housing crisis,” he said, referring to the community center. “Could there be a new community center there? Possibly, but there’s no funding for that right now.”
The lot adjacent to the Sabatini is privately owned. The town said it would prefer to work out a public-private partnership for the whole block rather than build on its half alone. The CDOT parcel, meanwhile, will require a time-consuming deal with a large state bureaucracy.
Mayor Gary Wilkinson noted that the Sabatini and CDOT properties would eventually be developed, just not any time soon. He said he couldn’t take a position on the measure.
“If this question is defeated, we’ll move forward on other opportunities,” he said.
Councilwoman Deborah Shaner, the council’s representative on the housing task force, said she couldn’t take a public position on the ballot measure either.
“It really comes down to a choice of whether or not housing is more important than the park — that’s why we put it on the ballot,” she said. “No one really wants to get rid of the park, but if we get 13 units out of it, is it worth it?”
Brodt said she was sympathetic to the town’s workforce housing needs. But she doesn’t think that building out the last remaining town lots with density will solve the problem, which she says is too large for Frisco to tackle alone. “We’re doing really well because people want to come here and shop here and eat here because out town is so cute,” she said. “So let’s not ruin that in our efforts to try and solve the housing problem — which we can’t do with the limited land we have. I think there’s a balance.”
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