Silverthorne issue headed for referendum
SILVERTHORNE – What any Silverthorne observer could see coming big as a Mack truck with a semi full of Safeway deliveries will be a certainty. The minute the town council gives final approval to the Silver Mountain Village development and annexation, a group of citizens will try to force the matter to an election.
The matter appears headed for a Dec. 11 showdown, the date the town council is expected to act on the mixed commercial and residential development featuring a Safeway, housing, a school site and other components.
Based on recent history, the vote will be 4-2 with council members Peggy Long, David Koop, Steve Swanson and Karla Trippe in the majority – opposed by Sheila Groneman and Howard Hallman.
Jim Shaw, a resident of Eagles Nest, is leading a five-person committee to trigger the referendum petition drive. The committee is necessary by law to propose a referendum. Shaw said the other four members are yet to be selected.
Shaw said two petitions will be distributed, one to force a vote on the development and another to send all annexations to a vote.
“Major annexations are big changes that should not be decided by six citizens on the town council. They should be decided by the people of Silverthorne,” Shaw said.
Mayor Lou DelPiccolo believes the town already voted on the matter when he was elected in May over challenger Groneman, a Silver Mountain Village opponent.
“As far as I am concerned, that is when we had the referendum. I think the outcome was very clear,” DelPiccolo said.
The incumbent mayor won by a 4 to 3 margin, he noted.
Shaw is allied with out-of-town resident Mary Ellen Gilliland and the Silverthorne Area Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth (SANFRG). But Gilliland considers the future petition drive a hand-off of the matter to town citizens.
“For us, the votes are not there,” Gilliland said. “We’ve exhausted the energies of citizen involvement at meetings and in writing letters. It has just fallen upon deaf ears.
“The next phase will have to be a referendum. It just seems the citizens have not been listened to,” Gilliland said.
Gilliland lives in a suburban Silverthorne neighborhood on the east side of the valley, which would look upon the development. She maintains her concern is both about views and Lower Blue Basin development patterns – chiefly sprawling commercial development.
“Don’t we all care passionately about our backyard? Should that not be our primary interest?” Gilliland said. “It’s not like it’s the planet Pluto. It is my own backyard that I care about.”
Gilliland noted the new Target store now under construction was supported by SANFRG because it is being built in the town core.
When – or if – Silver Mountain Village is built, it will contain a commercial component anchored by Safeway, a new Silverthorne Elementary School, a daycare facility and deed-restricted and free-market housing – about 181 residential units all together.
Safeway and the Summit School District would be the first to break ground. A fait accompli based on the looming 4-2 vote-count is spurring Shaw’s early organizing.
Shaw said he would not see the project directly from his Eagles Nest home.
“My house might allow me to see the soft glow of lights above the Smith Ranch,” he said, referring to the current name of the undeveloped parcel.
The Smith Ranch lies between Ruby Ranch Road and the Willowbrook neighborhood on the north end of Silverthorne, on the west side of Highway 9.
A small portion of the ranch along the highway already sits in the town. The larger acreage behind that section sits in unincorporated Summit County, zoned agricultural, which allows one unit per 20 acres.
Annexation into Silverthorne is the deal-maker – or deal-killer, if the referendum eyed by Shaw is successful.
Shaw opposes “a strip mall in the middle of Smith Ranch.” He said the concept violates Silverthorne’s new comprehensive plan which calls for the ranch to be residential.
DelPiccolo remains adamant Silver Mountain Village will deliver many benefits to townspeople, including affordable housing, a public school site and a daycare site.
“I think it will be very positive for the town, the school district and our community on this side of the county, in general,” the mayor said.
“I think all of the benefits, including the grocery store, are welcome in this context.”
Shaw knows that argument well. It was a big part of DelPiccolo’s re-election campaign. He still doesn’t buy it.
“I think the project is too high a price to pay for the benefits. It steps out from the town’s commercial zone and will hurt existing businesses. It is the wrong way for Silverthorne to grow,” Shaw said.
He also questions whether the affordable housing will be truly affordable – especially for entry-level workers.
As for free-market housing, Shaw predicts the slow real estate market will cause construction to drag behind the commercial development.
He calls the referendum a “good government issue.”
“We want a vote,” he said. “If 51 percent of the people want the development, the 49 percent should shut up and live with it. If 51 percent oppose it, the town council should drop its plans and listen to the people.”
DelPiccolo still thinks Silver Mountain Village opposition is strongly influenced by non-residents who would rather see pastureland remain at Smith Ranch. Development is a matter of time, he said, calling Silver Mountain Village a long-negotiated deal to obtain its benefits.
“I have no compunction whatsoever to be in favor of this annexation,” DelPiccolo said.
Ironically, the mayor doesn’t vote on the matter unless it shifts to a 3-3 tie among council members. His voting power is reserved for tie-breakers.
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