Summit County commissioners vote to put Peak 7 tax district question on ballot to pay for road paving
BRECKENRIDGE — Neighbors were pitted against each other during the Summit Board of County Commissioners’ regular meeting Tuesday. The commissioners were asked to add a question on November’s ballot that calls for a local improvement district to be created in the southern part of Breckenridge’s Peak 7 neighborhood. The district would be used to raise $6.6 million to pave the neighborhood’s gravel roads.
Dozens of residents lined up and gave 3 1/2 hours of public comment for and against creating the district. After it was all said and done, the commissioners voted unanimously to allow the question on the ballot. The commissioners cited the proper procedure followed by proponents of the district, who had tried and failed twice in years past to create a district that would pay for paved roads.
If residents of the proposed district vote in favor of the ballot question in November, each homeowner benefiting from the asphalt paving of American Way, Ski Hill Road and the rest of the neighborhood’s current gravel roads would be required to pony up $20,000 to raise the $6.6 million required. The payment would be due up front or through a 10-year financing agreement with 5% interest — potentially bringing the final cost to $26,000 or more. Until the paving money is paid, a lien would stick to the property.
Proponents, many of whom were clad in orange in a visible show of unity, argued the benefits of the paving would outweigh the costs. They complained about how the neighborhood had become a “dust bowl” as increasing ski area traffic continually kicks up gravel. Some proponents said the gravel roads were bad for their cars, causing extra maintenance and cleaning costs.
The staunchest opponents to creating the district were homeowners who said they simply could not pay the $20,000 for paving on top of everything else that makes living in Breckenridge so expensive.
Dr. Lauren Richman, a veterinarian at Farmer’s Korner Veterinary Hospital and a Peak 7 homeowner, teared up as she told the commissioners she could not even afford to repair her roof, let alone pay $20,000 or more for an amenity she and other opponents did not want or ask for.
“This benefits the county, Breckenridge and the resorts,” Richman said. “But there is a complete lack of consideration for less wealthy people in the neighborhood.”
Calling the creation of the district “pure gentrification,” Richman said paving also would increase her home value assessment, which is already more than she could afford if she had to buy the home today. That means higher property taxes on top of the bill for the paving.
“Will you be posting the eviction notices for people who can’t pay?” Richman asked the commissioners as she ended her comment.
At least two other residents wept as they commented, explaining the financial difficulties they already experience without having to worry about a $20,000 bill. Other opponents questioned why the county could not pay for the paving, given how much they already pay in property taxes.
Additional concerns opponents raised included the increased traffic and driving speed the paved roads would inevitably invite, compounding a burgeoning traffic problem that is irritating residents in the area and increasing safety concerns.
Opponents also were unhappy with the way the petition for the district was approved, despite 15 residents recanting their approval of the district and reducing the proportion of signatories from 60% of residents — the county’s required threshold before investing in an expensive project study — to 55%.
However, the county’s attorneys explained that there was no statutory requirement for 60% district resident approval before the commissioners could vote on whether to put the question on the ballot.
Rather, the commissioners could not take up the question and the district could not be created if 50% or more of residents in the potential district made their views known against its creation.
After doing a final tally of petition signatures, comments and emails, the county announced that 55% of applicable homeowners, 189 out of 340, still approved the district, meaning there was nothing to stop the commissioners from considering it.
In the end, all three commissioners voted to allow the question on the ballot. Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier called the decision “heartwrenching” given the strong feelings against the project. However, she said she could not stand in the way of a democratic vote.
“I definitely believe the voters should decide,” Stiegelmeier said. “I don’t want to stop it from moving forward.”
Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence, who used to live in the Peak 7 neighborhood herself, said the area had obviously changed, and she would not stand in the way of a properly called vote either. However, she urged residents to join her on a tour of the neighborhood so she could listen to their concerns about increasing ski area traffic.
Commissioner Thomas Davidson concurred with his colleagues and said the county would converse with Vail Resorts and inquire about the ski area traffic, even though there is nothing to prevent drivers from using public rights of way for whatever reason they desire.
Davidson also addressed questions about why the county could not pay for the paving. He said that huge losses in county revenue after the recession, along with budgeting restrictions created by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and the Gallagher Amendment, meant the county just can’t afford it.
“Lots of people have asked, ‘Why doesn’t the county pay for road improvements?’” Davidson said. “The fact is that we simply do not have the funds to improve roads in every neighborhood in unincorporated Summit County.”
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