2017 Year in Review: Development in Dillon meets resistance
December 21, 2017
Editor's note: The Summit Daily is counting down the top 10 stories of 2017, starting today.
It's been said that Dillon is a sleeper in Summit County. Downtown is nestled just above the shores of Lake Dillon, commanding panoramic views of the Tenmile and Gore ranges. Down the hill from Highway 6, it's tucked away but still accessible. It boasts the lake's only deep-water marina and perhaps the best summer music venue in the county.
Yet there has been no new private construction in the area in nearly two decades, and remarkably, downtown Dillon only has about 40 permanent residents. Its aging buildings have started to attract low-rent business, while the lion's share of Dillon's tax revenue comes from Dillon Ridge Marketplace, a shopping enclave across the highway that might as well be a different town.
There's little doubt that downtown Dillon could be a crown jewel of Summit County. In 2017, the Dillon Town Council and its staff have been highly productive trying to make that happen, pushing the kind of pro-growth agenda that hasn't been seen in years. In demonstrating the town's eagerness to do business, however, they have confronted a difficult question: Is that what homeowners really want?
The council got an earful earlier this year when it approved a five-story condominium building downtown, with many homeowners objecting to the projects' size, invoking the specter of Dillon becoming "just like Breckenridge" with its bustle and crowds.
The project, Dillon Flats, included a land transfer from the Dillon Urban Renewal Authority and grew out of efforts in April to re-subdivide underutilized downtown lots and entice new development.
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Amid the public outcry, council unanimously approved the project, located on East LaBonte Street. In total, Dillon Flats will include 48 units, 12 of which will be reserved for year-round Summit County workers.
Council members said that while homeowners had legitimate concerns, Dillon Flats was too good to pass up: It would add residential density downtown — which consultants say is necessary to attract business — while taking a modest bite out of the workforce housing crisis.
An equally controversial development, meanwhile, cleared the Planning and Zoning Commission in December and will be up for council vote in January. The Crossroads at Lake Dillon, a five-story, 103-room hotel at the corner of Lake Dillon Drive and Highway 6, is billed as a way to draw people into downtown and serve as a catalyst for further development.
In March, the town council rejected a previous iteration of the project, now some five years in the making, because of its 90-foot height. The developers, chief among them the longtime local Danny Eilts, have since shaved the height down to 58 feet, but some homeowners still say it's too tall for Dillon.
A sizeable majority of Dillon's homeowners don't live there full time, in contrast with many in the business community, who have been pining for more economic activity in the core area for decades. Though smaller in number, they have emerged this year as a stronger voice for development, showing up to meetings to back projects they aren't even involved with.
Eddie O'Brien, who owns several buildings downtown, often poses a rhetorical question to skeptics of the large projects: If we wanted to discuss this over a cup of coffee right now, where would we go? The City Market up on Dillon Ridge?
Everyone agrees that it would be nice to have a café in downtown Dillon. Businessmen like O'Brien, however, sometimes lament the very thing that many absentee homeowners love about Dillon: the fact that there isn't much going on.
The debate can sometimes seem like two groups talking past each other. While many homeowners agree that Dillon needs more economic activity, they never seem to be OK with the scale that town officials and businessmen say is necessary. Conversely, homeowners' concerns about traffic and wiped out mountain views seem to fall on deaf ears as well.
The debate around overhauling the Dillon Amphitheatre — which together with Crossroads at the other end of town is envisioned as a second "bookend" for Lake Dillon Drive — may have demonstrated the conflict most clearly.
Last year, town officials embarked on an ambitious rebuild of the quaint hillside music venue, which boasts some of the best views in the county. When construction on the project is complete, a larger venue with modern styling and sharp angles will have replaced the humble pagoda that once stood there. (Town officials say the impact to views will be minimal because the new structure will be further down the hillside.)
For the vocal opposition that cropped up around the project, however, the styling of the building was just as offensive as its lager size. Sure it may draw larger acts, some residents said, but it's ugly, and not fitting with Dillon's town character.
The problem is, there seem to be two groups that don't really agree on what that town character should be. Should Dillon build up, becoming a gleaming city upon a hill? Or is it the town's sleepiness, its "anti-Vail" character, as one homeowner put it, that makes the place special?
The backhoes are already digging foundations for Dillon Flats, and the amphitheater will be re-opened by next summer's concert season.
If it's approved, Crossroads would be the biggest project in downtown Dillon in a generation. If it isn't, developers warn, the town may never get a chance at such a good project again.
Either way, there's a good chance Dillon will be a very different town in the next few years. The question is, will the new business be worth the price?
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