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Saving the Lower Blue?

Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk
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BRECKENRIDGE Development demands at Keystone and Copper resorts could be the key to saving open space and ranchlands in the Lower Blue Basin north of Silverthorne.

The connection between the two could be a countywide transfer of development rights (TDR) program where resort developers could buy density from rural property owners. The idea emerged Monday from a discussion of a smaller TDR plan aimed at the greater Silverthorne area and the open vistas of the Lower Blue.

TDRs, as envisioned in the Lower Blue, would give property owners cash value for their land while allowing them to keep it as open space or ranchland. In turn, developers could be given density rights within more populated areas.



What we really want to do (with the TDR program) is stop 20-acre postage stamp subdivisions, County Commissioner Bill Wallace said. Wallace also said the plan is aimed at keeping development from occurring in view corridors vectoring off Highway 9.

The ranching tradition is giving out to development allowed under zoning that allows one housing unit per 20 acres.



On Monday, the Board of County Commissioners began digesting an array of Lower Blue TDR options offered by a special citizens-driven Lower Blue TDR work group.

The Lower Blue Basin stretches north of Silverthorne to the Grand County line. Historically, it has been home to agriculture while much of the rest of the county took to hard rock, placer and dredge boat mining.

Vistas in the Lower Blue are framed by the Williams Fork range to the east and the Gore Range to the west. The Lower Blue is home to the countys largest concentration of aspen trees and sagebrush meadows.

While the draft plan is aimed at the Lower Blue, it became clear a need for receiving sites could push the plan into a countywide arena.

Lets face it, the demand for density is at Keystone and Copper, said Michele Kutchin, a member of the Countywide Planning Commission that reviewed the committees draft.

TDR plans match sending sites, usually rural areas and ranchland, and receiving sites, usually developed areas with infrastructure such as water, sewers and roads in place.

The Lower Blues TDR conundrum is Silverthornes reluctance to increase density within its borders, which was the goal of the countys TDR program to keep density where it is now and stop sprawl.

But Silverthorne doesnt collect a property tax and residential development creates expenses without revenues to pay for them.

We have to try to figure out a carrot for Silverthorne, County Commissioner Tom Long said.

The draft plan, as of the moment, calls for density from the Lower Blue to land in unincorporated areas around Silverthorne such as the Heitt Ranch and back in cluster developments in the heart of the Lower Blue itself.

Mark Truckey, the county governments long-range planning manager, said the TDR committee was thinking bigger.

The one everybody loved (for receiving density), he said, was other basins in the county.

While the BOCC called for development of a Lower Blue TDR plan, it also wants work to begin on a countywide plan.

Silverthorne Town Councilmember Peggy Long, also a member of the TDR committee, said the town is not necessarily stiff arming the TDR game.

Silverthorne is really on the fence, we havent opened up the gate, yet, she said.

She said the town might consider TDRs for projects that would increase employee housing or create commercial development, an important revenue generator for the sales tax-dependent town.

The Lower Blue TDR plan envisions the free market setting the price for a development right. This differs from the successful Upper Blue TDR plan that prices a TDR at $34,000 per unit.

There is a reason for wanting to change the current system. The Upper Blue is dealing in backcountry mining claims on steep, remote lands difficult to develop. Land in the Lower Blue is more valuable and more accessible, but values would vary depending on remoteness.

Commissioner Tom Long noted a sale of 17.5 acres for a residential site in the Lower Blue that went for $279,000.

Because the Lower Blue land is more valuable, it could mean developers receiving TDRs on more than one-to-one ratios, something the commissioners are considering. However, this could also create new net density, a concept that clashes the precept of the countywide master plan.

In the shaping of a TDR plan, Town Councilmember Peggy Long warned of unintended consequences, such as density leaving other basins and landing in the Lower Blue, a fate that would defeat preservation efforts.

She also said that Denver Water is a factor. If Silverthorne takes more sewer taps, it could find itself with too much treated waste and too little water in the Blue River to dilute it.

The limiting factor is Denver Waters requirement only to release 50 cubic feet per second of water from the Dillon Dam, or less depending on the cumulative inflow into Dillon Reservoir from the Ten Mile Creek, Snake and Blue rivers that feed it.


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