Blue River begins enforcing lock-off apartment restrictions
Tensions were high at Blue River’s Town Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 1, as a standing-room-only crowd packed a planning commission meeting after rumors circulated that the town would amend the municipal code to prohibit lock-off apartments in single-family homes.
Blue River Mayor Lindsay Backas told those in attendance the planning commission meeting was not open for public comment, and there was false information being circulated. She said that, in fact, the municipal code already restricts lock-off, or accessory apartments, in R-1 zoned areas.
“The rules and regulations have not changed at all,” she told the agitated crowd.
The municipal code defines R-1 as a low-density residential district where land development is restricted to preserve open spaces and maintain the “essential character and value” of the town. An accessory apartment is defined as a separate unit within or an integral part of a residential home used solely as a rental unit.
“We’re not changing anything; we’re updating and trying to clear up language the town established in 1964,” she said.
Despite earlier pronouncements to the contrary, Backas eventually relented and agreed to listen to those assembled, who were concerned that residents who rent space in single homes may be forced to relocate.
She said that, over the last few months, the town has received complaints related to resident density issues.
“We’re hearing from families who notice more garbage and more cars,” she said.
The town does allow short- and long-term rentals, as well as roommates, but the municipal code restricts separate apartments in the same building within R-1 zones.
The code also lists conditions for renting or leasing property. The occupancy cannot exceed one person for each 400 square feet of gross floor area, which excludes garages, basement areas or attics. Also, a single-family residence cannot exceed two persons per bedroom. Lastly, there are no more than three vehicles parked on the property unless a variance is granted.
“Leaving garbage out, and parking on the roads are the chief complaints,” she said. “We have dirt roads; our infrastructure can’t support two or more families in a house.”
In recent months, the town has begun issuing $300 fines when it became aware of homes that were subdivided to make an additional rental space. Residents worried the new approach would result in renters being displaced and, in some cases, would eliminate an income source for local families to pay mortgages.
Jennifer Kermode, executive director at Summit Combined Housing Authority, said if the town continues enforcing the policy, numerous renters could be affected, the largest number of whom work in Breck.
“If you displace these people, where are they going to go?” she asked. “It would have a significant negative impact on local business.”
Blue River resident Christine Armitage said a lot of her neighbors share the same concerns over what the town seemingly deemed acceptable until this October.
“There’s too many homeless people already,” she said. “Many of these kids are living on couches.”
Breckenridge Town Councilman Mark Burke voiced concern over the fate of workers displaced from affordable housing. With a well-documented lack of affordable housing options, he questioned the town’s new approach.
“We can’t build workforce housing quick enough,” he noted.
When asked why the town has started enforcing a long-ignored rule, Backas said there is now somebody to handle enforcement.
Blue River Town Marshal Brian Brady, who resigned as the interim police chief in Dillon on Feb. 19, 2014, has been issuing tickets in response to complaints from neighbors.
“They’re the ones making the complaints to us,” Backas said.
In response to concerns about Blue River residents who work in Breck and would be challenged to find alternative living arrangements if displaced from present rentals, she said the towns have separate identities.
“We’re not Breckenridge,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how close we are.”
Over time, the composition of the Blue River has changed, and she said the new influx of residents are filing complaints.
“Blue Ridge used to be a bedroom community for Breckenridge,” she said. “Now more people are living here full-time then renting houses out.”
Armitage said instead of issuing fines and potentially displacing renters, perhaps Blue River residents could work together to reach a common vision for an idyllic community.
“It’s more about being respectful and conscious of your neighbors,” she said. “We all need to be a part of the conversation.”
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