Controversial Maryland Creek Ranch proposal passes on first reading
By the numbers: South Maryland Creek Ranch
The latest South Maryland Creek Ranch proposal calls for nearly triple the original density on the 416-acre plot. The developer tweaked the proposal slightly before it was approved as an ordinance by the Silverthorne Town Council on May 27. A second reading is scheduled for June 10. A look at how the project has changed following community backlash:
2001 to 2014
1 on 5 acres — rural density limit approved by town council in 2001
355 acres — size of SMCR parcel when annexed in 2005
71 units — number proposed by developer in 2005
416 acres — current size of SMCR parcel after addition of 61 acres in 2007
83 units — number proposed by developer in 2007
240 units — number proposed by developer in March and May
300 percent — increase in units from 2007 to 2015
2 percent — increase in development area
22 percent — increase in built square footage
200 percent — increase in number of bedrooms
60 percent — proposed open space on SMCR parcel
1,550 to 3,500 square feet — unit size range
$550,000 to $625,000 — price range for majority of units
Sources: Town of Silverthorne; South Maryland Creek Ranch.
Silverthorne is growing at a rapid clip, and a hotly contested development of 240 units on 418 acres at South Maryland Creek Ranch (SMCR) could be the solution.
But first, the property owner must make nice with the neighbors.
On May 27, the Silverthorne Town Council approved the first reading of a slightly revised proposal for the long-stalled development, found on the north edge of town wedged between the Three Peaks neighborhood and unincorporated Summit County.
The vote was 3-1, with Councilman Stuart Richardson the lone dissenting voice, noting that the developer’s revisions still skirt the density question raised by residents in March. Mayor Bruce Butler only votes to break a split decision, per town charter, and Mayor Pro Tem Ann-Marie Sandquist was not present.
“At the last meeting I asked for compromises on density and I haven’t got one,” Richardson told the collection of roughly 70 residents. “Therefore, I’m still against the project. I believe the zoning committee and the staff are wrong on this. We established the zoning before, so where are we trying to go?”
Based on legal advice from town attorneys, the density increase is now handled as an ordinance, rather than a revision to SMCR’s planned unit development, or PUD.
A second reading is scheduled for the June 10 meeting.
South Maryland Creek Ranch’s location on the town-county border — not to mention a request for triple the original density from a decade ago — became one of several rallying cries for residents packed into every corner of the council chambers.
“We don’t want this because it’s not what we bargained for, what we are looking for,” county resident Susan Knopf told the council. “I think the town needs to do something to find a compromised position with Tom. We just need to make sure this is the right kind of development, the right kind of growth.”
In 2001, the town passed a density limit of one unit per 5 acres for rural properties. The limit was meant to preserve the wild character of the Lower Blue River Basin. It was also meant to provide a buffer between in-town properties and unincorporated lands, where density is restricted to a spacious one unit per 20 acres.
By 2005, Silverthorne voted to annex the SMCR property, which at the time was 355 acres and still bound to the one-to-five density. But the newest SMCR proposal calls for one unit per half acre — a 300 percent increase over 2007, when the property called for 83 units on 416 acres.
“You’re talking about going from one home on 20 acres to one home on a half acre,” Richardson said after the meeting, echoing resident fears about a disappearing transition area between the town and open lands. “That’s not a transition. That’s a cliff.”
When property owner Tom Everist approached the town earlier this year to approve the new, higher density cap for SMCR, he said the housing market has changed and new homebuyers are looking for smaller properties, not the mega-mansions typically found on large rural plots. He stands by his original vision, again telling residents that a collection of clustered homes in the $550,000 to $625,000 range is the best fit for the property.
This comes as Silverthorne is on the rise. The permanent population jumped from 3,887 in 2010 to 4,010 in 2013, spurred by county-wide population growth of 1.6 percent per year, according to the town’s 2015 community profile. By 2030 — shortly after SMCR is completed — population is expected to reach 5,750.
“We really hope the spectrum of sizes and costs there will appeal to people who want to either live here full time or spend more time here than in a massive home,” said Everist, addressing resident concerns about home costs. “We’re aiming for that community feel, people who are actively working and can do the reverse commute to Denver, with their family in Silverthorne. That’s kind of a new concept, but that’s what we’re pushing for.”
SLOW CHANGE OF HEART
Despite several passionate speeches — at one point Butler asked the crowd to stop midway through a round of applause — public backlash this week wasn’t quite as fierce as on March 3 and March 11, when Everist and his team were met with tears and outrage from SMCR neighbors.
Since then, the developer has hosted informational sessions with five stakeholders, including the Three Peaks and Eagles Nest HOAs, along with Friends of the Lower Blue River, Lake Dillon Fire Rescue, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“One thing we found with all these meetings was the density, the sticker shock, so to speak,” said Everist, who also thanked the council for giving his team time to meet with the community. “That has been the major point, and when you talk to people, they’re worried about the impact that density has on traffic and wildlife and the transition to the Lower Blue.”
While roughly half of the public comments called for some kind of compromise, just about every resident agreed that the developer has made noticeable improvements, particularly in terms of wildlife mitigation and traffic control.
Everist’s team met with COW officials to address 15 potential impacts on local wildlife, all of which are part of the new proposal. His crew will install traffic cameras near the property entrance on State Highway 9 to quell contractor noise — Three Peaks residents were concerned about traffic during the projected 10-year build-out — and shift phasing to begin construction at the center of the parcel, rather than working south to north.
“Starting in the middle where we’ll build the community center makes much more sense, at least from a marketing standpoint,” Everist said. “This has really become a win-win situation, and that was something proposed by a neighbor. We think that is a huge positive.”
For John Longhill, a spokesman for Friends of the Lower Blue River who started an online petition, the group’s largest concern was expansion. If density at SMCR can increase, it opens the door for similar changes at nearby properties. Yet Everist promised that SMCR will come with a covenant to restrict further expansion to the north — a major win for opponents, even if the density doesn’t budge.
“It seems the council is in favor of it, even though the official vote isn’t made,” Longhill said after the meeting. “Our main concern has always been continued development down the river and we now have a guarantee that won’t happen. It’s better than nothing.”
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