Officials work to anticipate the impacts of development
SUMMIT COUNTY – Ski area expansions do more than bring more tourists to Summit County. They require additional employees, who need affordable housing. If the expansion is of significant scale, the added traffic it generates may trigger the need for wider roads, more parking lots, increased demand for water, more stores to serve those additional employees and to serve new residents who may be attracted here by the growing ski terrain.
“It’s kind of like throwing a rock in a pond,” said Gary Severson, director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG). “These are what the ripples are going to be.”
A new project seeks to address those ripple effects, to foresee and prepare for them before they actually happen. Town, county and other local officials are working with the U.S. Forest Service to make such planning part of the decision-making process. The plan, called Project F, is part of the Building Bridges program. Building Bridges, funded by four grants and overseen by the Silverthorne-based NWCCOG, brings towns, counties, federal agencies, and state agencies together to resolve issues.
Severson and others involved in the project call the ski area expansions, and other potential dramatic changes, “drivers.” They are the forces behind those social and economic changes.
“Once we have a better understanding (of the impacts), it’s a question of how we interject that information into our planning,” said assistant county manager Steve Hill. “Our thought is that can happen in a number of different ways … including in our master planning.”
Anticipating those impacts also might trigger changes in development codes and review standards.
“That implementation is down the road,” Hill said.
Eight projects are targeted for completion under the Building Bridges program, though they’re not subject to a specific deadline. One of those projects calls for developing a process for social and economic impact analysis of ski-area development and expansion, or both. That’s the work that is now getting under way.
Members of the Summit Leadership Forum and the Forest Service recently began that discussion, meeting for three hours to brainstorm the potential impacts of such large-scale changes.
But, Severson said, it’s not just about ski areas.
“It’s any land use decision on the National Forest, and certainly a ski area expansion would be one of those,” he said. “But it could also apply to the (Forest Service) travel management plan – if they’re going to open or close roads and trails – what are the likely economic and social effects of that.
“It’s about not acting in a vacuum, so hopefully the decision makers can anticipate what some of the downstream consequences might be and take action to plan for mitigation or adjust those (factors).”
Severson said the process would have made a difference about 17 years ago, when the Forest Service’s original travel management plan was created.
“(Then), mountain bikes weren’t even on the scene,” he said. “Look at the social effects mountain bikes have had. They have an effect on the environment, but they also have an effect on our local economy and social system.”
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