Workforce-housing approval spurs neighbor to file lawsuits against Summit County
September 4, 2017
A recently approved mixed market-rate, workforce-housing complex near Breckenridge is the source of at least a pair of lawsuits in Summit District Court after a neighbor's pleas for the county to forgo final endorsement went overlooked.
The Board of County Commissioners authorized the Trails at Berlin Placer development in the Upper Blue Basin on Aug. 22 by a unanimous vote of 3-0. Dan Moore, a nearby homeowner, disputes that the 36-unit housing project is permitted under the 23.4-acre parcel's restrictive zoning regulations and asserts that abruptly changing those rules will dramatically impact his and his family's quality of life.
"I have never been sued, and I've never sued anyone — until now," Moore told the county board at the Aug. 22 public hearing. "It causes me great, great distress to come sue the community that I love, but I'm doing it because I really feel like you're out of line, and you've really left me no choice. I felt incredibly wronged about this process, and I knew I was going to spare no expense to be heard."
Moore, a full-time resident who bought his home in November 2015, lives on the adjacent land from the proposed building site at the intersection of Sallie Barber and Baldy roads. Sallie Barber functions as his driveway, and his property came with an associated easement granted to the county by the previous owner — though the two sides are now locked in a battle over whether Sallie Barber is in fact a county road or if the easement can be rescinded.
The self-described telecom entrepreneur and real estate investor retained Denver-based Foster Graham Milstein and Calisher to represent him in court. So far, the law firm has filed two lawsuits against the county and home developer — each after an initial approval toward final county consent of the project — to put a stop to the development, and further complaints could be submitted in the near future.
The primary bone of contention between the parties is whether the three-member county board — acting as the decision-making council for all land within Summit's borders but outside of an incorporated town — may modify zoning regulations if a certain number of criteria are not met beforehand based on the area's guiding property document. Until being changed late last month, the land intended for the Berlin Placer housing project held an A-1, or agricultural, designation, which limits it to a residential use of one single-family home.
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"I have been practicing as a land-use attorney for over 20 years," Moore's lawyer David Foster said in addressing the county board. "The notion that this county is going to throw out those maps and approve a project, however you get there, that is presently zoned A-1 with one home … to allow a 36-home site is absolutely irresponsible."
The developer has plans for 20 for-sale workforce units across 10 duplex-style townhomes to go along with 14 custom-built, single-family houses. Another unit would be built for the property manager of the townhomes, and a lot would be left open for the construction of a future Habitat for Humanity home.
Once infrastructural hookups and utilities are established, the duplexes would be built first, and the price would average 100 percent of the area's median income — some as low as 80 and others no higher than 120 AMI. Each would measure 2,200 square feet, with three bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms and a two-car garage.
As part of acquiring county ratification, the homebuilder's agreement with the county board includes conferring about 5 acres of land to the county open space department and both formalizing and improving three trails on the property for public use in perpetuity. That's on top of building a 20-to-30-space parking lot to serve the trail system, as well as replacing the nearby Summit Stage Rock Ridge bus stop and adding a shelter.
"The last thing I want everyone (to think) I want to do is get in the way of a project that helped 20 more people in the community to be able to afford it," Moore told the board. "Because I know our teachers, I've met our policemen and our firemen — I've met the good people of Summit County, and I like them. I want that sense of community and I want that diversity, and I want to be a part of it. But folks, you have to follow the codes."
During nearly 30 minutes of public testimony, Moore stated he's already sunk $120,000 into the legal stand in defense of his $5 million-plus property, and on behalf of his fellow neighbors who do not have those sort of means to fend off the county. He also noted he has already begun spending his expendable income — money Moore intended to invest back into Summit County in the form of long-term rentals to the tune of $2.6 million — elsewhere because he no longer trusted the county to properly enforce its own codes.
"I take great offense to the way this process has transpired so far, because I really believe it's predetermined," Moore added. "I understand why you're doing it, I just wish someone would just stand up and say, 'Wait a minute,' just hit the pause button and take a closer look at how it affects the neighbors. Because it's just wrong."
The county board was ultimately unmoved, and unwavering in its conclusion to green light the new housing project.
"We hear from a lot of people similar kinds of passions that we heard today about an idyllic location and the space that you can enjoy," County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said at the hearing in offering the rationale for her decision to approve. "But we also hear from a lot of people who have dire needs to find employees that can actually live here. No matter what we do, we're having to balance these conflicting goals."