Update: Town Council approves Breckenridge Grand Vacations gondola lot development with new conditions
Breckenridge Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday, Nov. 9, to approve the master plan for the Breckenridge Grand Vacations gondola lot development, adding a few new conditions to the plan and reducing the number of points awarded.
The development — which includes a new parking garage and workforce housing on the South Gold Rush lot, townhomes on the North Gold Rush lot and multiuse buildings including commercial uses, townhomes and condos on the North Gondola Lot — went through four hearings with the Breckenridge Planning Commission before moving onto a hearing with council Tuesday.
Applicant Mike Dudick, CEO and co-owner of Breckenridge Grand Vacations, said he believes the public scrutiny and review will only make the project better.
“We found over five projects and development plans with different buildings that a rigorous amount of public scrutiny and going through the public process — with staff, with the planning commission, with public input — makes our projects better and more robust,” Dudick said. “I have yet to walk out of a meeting, whether it was planning formally in public or planning behind the scenes, where I didn’t walk out with something that’s going to make it better.”
At its Oct. 26 meeting, Town Council decided to review the planning commission’s decision to approve the master plan. At the hearing Tuesday, presentations from and discussion among town staff, council members and the applicant focused around density, pedestrian and vehicular circulation, management of parks, gondola operation plans and specific details within the master plan notes.
The town uses a point analysis system for reviewing development applications through the planning process. Town staff and planning commission award points for aspects of planning projects that contribute to town goals and remove points for those against town goals or code.
Planning commission unanimously approved the master plan with 10 points at its final hearing Oct. 19. A total of 28 points were awarded under a variety of topic areas:
- Internal circulation: Three points for internal pedestrian circulation improvements
- Parking: Three points for providing about 95% of required parking
- Recreation: Three points for providing a public park
- Open space: Six points for dedicating wetlands to the town
- Social community: Three points for meeting a 2018 council goal of constructing a roundabout at French Street and Park Avenue
- Transit: Six points for installation of a gondola
- Infrastructure: Four points for the French Street roundabout being included in the 2019 five-year capital improvement plan
According to the Town Council staff report, a total of 18 points were removed for conflicts with recommended land use and for exceeding the building height limit. At the final planning commission hearing, Dudick advocated for three additional points, saying the internal circulation of the project should have been awarded six points total for addressing pedestrian safety concerns.
Typically, zero or more points are required for a project to be considered passable.
Town Council ultimately reduced the number of points the project received after most council members said they did not agree with the applicant’s analysis that 95% of pedestrians would use a gondola that will be built to transport pedestrians across Park Avenue — which is also Colorado Highway 9 — from the parking garage in the new development. Council decreased the points the plan received in the transit category from six to four, bringing the point total down to eight. The change passed with a 6-1 vote. Council member Jeffrey Bergeron voted “no,” saying he trusted the decision made by planning commission.
On Tuesday, Dudick made a detailed presentation, noting that he prioritized transparency and the community benefit.
To that end, Dudick said the project has taken a few expensive turns in an effort to do what’s best for the community. For example, he said it would be much cheaper to add a stoplight at the French Street intersection but that the roundabout aligns more with town goals and improves pedestrian safety.
Dudick said he isn’t oblivious to the opposition the project has received. In presenting to council, he emphasized that the density on the property has been there for decades but that it actually decreased in recent years, meaning the development is smaller than what other past projects on the site could have been. For example, he said he moved some of the density up to Peak 8 for a previous Breckenridge Grand Vacations project.
Bergeron said while the size and scope of the project scares him, it’s in line with town code, adding that if the site is going to be developed, he wants it to be done by Breckenridge Grand Vacations, a local company.
“I’ve been fighting growth and development for 30 years,” Bergeron said. “… If anyone was going to build something that I don’t want, I’d rather have it be (Breckenridge Grand Vacations).”
Council member Dick Carleton said he is wary of certain details of the development not being included in the master plan, suggesting the possibility that Breckenridge Grand Vacations could sell the land, leaving someone else to develop it.
“We’re getting promises but not details,” Carleton said. “… We don’t know whether we’re going to be working with you down the road … so I feel like we need to document and get details in this master plan if we’re memorializing all of these things.”
Despite some public pushback on the project, there was no public comment at Tuesday’s hearing.
The decisions of planning commission and Town Council are required to be based on whether the application complies with the development code. Dudick described the process as surgical, not emotional.
In the end, council added a few more conditions to the master plan. In addition to small changes in the master plan notes, conditions that will be added include:
- A mutual agreement to ensure the Breckenridge Grand Vacations gondola operates in conjunction with the BreckConnect Gondola during ski season and when the Breckenridge Grand Vacations parking garage is at least 20% occupied in the summer
- A requirement that the gondola be a detachable grip gondola
- An agreement that the applicant is responsible for maintaining both parks on the property
The development will still need to go through the same planning review process as it looks to develop each site, where planning commission and Town Council will be able to look more closely at the details of each structure.
Breckenridge Grand Vacations spokesperson Juli Rathke wrote in an email that the company will look to begin site-specific applications with the town in early 2022, with groundbreaking to follow approval. She said the first applications will be for the Gold Rush lots, which include the parking garage, workforce housing and townhomes.
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