Silverthorne residents speak out against proposed housing development
Land LeCog might have summed up the feelings of a packed Silverthorne Town Hall room Tuesday night when she started to cry.
“I know that change is inevitable, happens all the time,” said the 21-year-old resident, as she described the need for Silverthorne and Summit County to expand.
She called the tripling of housing units proposed by the 416-acre development South Maryland Creek Ranch a big deal in a place where she watches elk outside her house almost daily and regularly sees coyotes and moose.
“Once you make a change like this there’s no going back,” she said, choking back tears. “It makes it into a suburb kind of feel.”
LeCog urged the town’s planning commissioners to carefully consider sending the development’s density change to the town council.
“There’s maybe more at stake than the small picture of more homes,” she said. “You have to think about the animals and the life that we’ve all chosen to live up here.”
About 45 people attended a public hearing before the Silverthorne Planning Commission on March 3, and 10 local residents stood at the podium to speak against the proposed density change. They repeatedly mentioned sprawl, traffic and light pollution.
‘THE CREEP STOPS HERE’
After about 12 years of working on the project, the developers asked the town in May 2014 to increase the density allowed on the property from 83 single-family houses to 240.
Representatives of South Maryland Creek Ranch first gave a one-hour presentation that included the generations-long history of the Everist family, which owns the development and the Everist Materials gravel mining operations just north of the property on Highway 9, and the steps the developers have taken to address the concerns of town staff and residents.
“We apologize if we didn’t do enough to get you involved earlier,” said owner Tom Everist, “but nonetheless we hope we’ve softened if not totally mitigated the impact of this density change.”
Although the change would mean more people, Everist said, he believed more full-time residents would benefit the town.
Development representative Joanna Hopkins said she expects 50 percent of the home buyers to come from the Front Range with the remaining 50 percent evenly split among Summit and out-of-state residents.
Hopkins and Elena Scott, with the Frisco planning and architecture firm Norris Designs, described the features of the development, including a community center, dog park, disc-golf course, and natural and historic elements incorporated into family play areas and trails.
Everist said he has no plans to request that the town annex the roughly 600 acres of Maryland Creek Ranch that is still in unincorporated Summit County.
“It’s our intention to develop that with no more density than one in 20 (units per acre),” he said. “The creep stops here, so to speak, which is what we’ve said since we first initiated this.”
Development of that land could include a conservation easement, he said, and he would work to include public involvement in that process.
His comments did little to assuage the opposition in the room.
John Hillman, president of the Acorn Creek HOA, spoke as a representative of the nonprofit Friends of the Lower Blue River. He said after the organization learned about the new density proposal, its board members met with the developers in the days before the Tuesday meeting.
“We were very impressed with how careful their planning has been and how much they are trying to do this project right,” Hillman said.
Still, the FLBR remains strongly opposed to the density change, he said, and is concerned about sprawl between Silverthorne’s core and the rural land to the north.
“If you’ve ever seen the Roaring Fork Valley between Glenwood and Aspen, that’s our nightmare,” Hillman said.
The FLBR supported a conservation easement on the northern portion of Everist’s Maryland Creek Ranch land.
“If that could be done in a legally binding way that would follow the property in case it got sold to some other developer, maybe one that’s not as thoughtful,” he said, “that would make us feel a lot better about this tripling of density.”
Renowned Colorado nature photographer John Fielder talked about how he permanently relocated to the Lower Blue River Valley for the trees, wildlife and protected wilderness areas that make it one of the most beautiful valleys in the West.
He said the ecosystem he described doesn’t start at Maryland Creek Ranch but farther south, where Highway 9 becomes a two-lane road just north of Silverthorne Elementary School, and he did not want to see 240 units built in that sensitive environment.
“I’m shocked that this proposal has gotten to the point that it has,” he said. “I don’t see what purpose it serves other than to enrich the developer and provide more housing in Silverthorne.”
Longtime resident Lester Boeckel expressed concern about increased traffic and told the planning commissioners they would be setting a dangerous precedent.
“I was in the development business for 10 years, and I never produced an environmental study or a traffic study that didn’t validate what I wanted to do,” he said.
Resident Jim Donlon described the proposal as another loss of the county’s beauty.
“I’m crying thinking about it,” Donlon said.
He didn’t see a need for more housing, he said, and he was worried about more residents using water and electricity as well as the effects of the development’s lights on the nighttime views of the Milky Way and the Gore Range.
Eliott Robertson, who owns property in the town core, said he was on the planning commission in 1980, at a time when “subdividing was a national pastime.”
The commission chose to stop allowing subdivision developments, he said, including proposals in the 1980s from Maryland Creek Ranch, he said.
“If we didn’t do something the valley would be lost and so would the value of everybody’s land,” he said. “I find it a bit facetious to hear the proponents talk about urban creep stopping when they started it.”
Over the years Everist convinced town officials that his small subdivision wouldn’t have a negative impact despite residents fighting against it, Robertson said.
“Why do we go to these meetings?” he said. “We deserve better.”
Chuck Arnold, of Oxbow Ranch, praised Everist’s capabilities as a developer and reminded the commissioners that the Oxbow Ranch land has a development agreement with the town that could bring up similar concerns.
Arnold, who described himself as LeCog’s “big bad developer uncle,” suggested future development at Oxbow would lessen the contrast between the town core and the outlying area.
ON TO COUNCIL
All seven planning commissioners spoke in favor of the development and the proposed density change, and a few emphasized that their role is not to approve the change but to pass the best information possible along to the town council, which will make the decision.
They unanimously approved the density change, and after nearly three hours discussing the subject, people filtered out of the room expressing anger, frustration and disbelief to one another.
The Silverthorne Town Council will hold a hearing on the proposed density change on Wednesday, March 11, at 6 p.m. at Silverthorne Town Hall at 601 Center Circle.
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