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Safeway: Not buying it

The goal of this commentary to is to review the Silverthorne Comprehensive Plan in light of the questionable staff analysis promoting a Safeway strip mall on the pastoral Smith Ranch.

Many citizens have argued at three public meetings the strip mall violates the town’s comprehensive plan. Town officials defended the mall’s location. Now, the town council is ready to decide the issue.

Town staff analysis of the strip mall ignores the comprehensive plan’s intent and seizes upon phrases taken out of context to defend a new commercial mall against a scenic backdrop, the town’s last open view corridor on the west side of Highway 9.



The comprehensive plan has as its first land use goal (3.1): “To establish a pattern of future land uses which will promote the highest degree of health, safety, efficiency and well being for all segments of the community, and make the most efficient use of land, community facilities, services, while protecting the environment and natural resources.”

This is a sweeping goal that insures quality of life for residents. Town staff seized upon the phrase “pattern of future land uses” to argue growth is moving north, and therefore commercial development should also move north, out of the business core.



The logic is questionable. Staff concludes the “neighborhood” commercial center will provide needed services and will reduce automobile traffic along portions of Highway 9. This ignores the fact this is not a neighborhood grocery store. It is a strip mall nearly as big as the Dillon City Market structure, not including Gart Sports, but including the restaurants, liquor store and Pier One to the west.

Still, the real issue with land use cannot be determined from the goal statement. We must look at the related policies.

Policy 3.1 states: “Development shall occur in a logical pattern with higher density occurring near the downtown business districts, and lower density development radiating toward the edges.”

Staff finds the strip mall does just that, because there is high-density residential and commercial development to the south and moderate density residential to the north.

The commercial density to the south is not nearly as dense as the proposed development. A more reasoned reading of this policy is that commercial development should have its density in the core of the town and taper off toward the residential areas.

Reading this policy in conjunction with Policy 3.7, for example, makes more sense.

Policy 3.7 states: “The town shall encourage the development of the existing commercial business districts prior to creation of additional commercial areas.”

While staff finds the strip mall fails to meet this policy, it argues there is no other site for a development of this size.

Remember, this is a “neighborhood” store, but it can’t fit anywhere in Silverthorne except on agricultural land.

Policy 3.1.2 states: “Agricultural lands on the edges of the community should be encouraged to be protected in accordance with the Three Mile Area Plan.”

Staff notes the “Three Mile Area component of the comprehensive plan does not state a desire to retain the Smith Ranch land as an agriculture land use.”

Nevertheless, the language is clear. While staff went on to note that Policy 3.1.3 states agricultural land northeast of Highway 9 “shall” be preserved, it said the Smith Ranch plan was for “low-density, single-family and/or possible

multifamily residences, perhaps with a school and neighborhood commercial uses.”

The plain language of the policy is that agricultural lands on the edges of the community should be encouraged to be protected while other agricultural land shall be protected.

This proposal is not for neighborhood commercial uses. It is a regional mall of nearly 100,000 square feet of commercial space.

Policy 3.1.9 states: “Commercial activity along Highways 6 and 9 should be limited to an area running from Little Beaver Trail to West 13th Street, and an additional node on Eagles Nest. Additional commercial activity shall be evaluated on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration sensitive site design buffering the commercial use from adjoining properties.”

While staff notes this policy, it makes no specific finding. It merely calls for evaluation on a case-by-case basis. Clearly, the intent of this policy and Policy 3.1.7 is to keep commercial development in commercial areas until they are built out. Commercial properties are not built-out and ample opportunity remains to place a grocery store on existing commercial land, such as the cel Energy land.

Policy 3.1.8 states: “Retail, commercial and higher density residential projects shall be located near transportation systems.”

Staff argues that locating Safeway on Highway 9 and providing a bus stop meets this policy. Staff notes that because the location is in the vicinity of the town’s largest concentration of residential population, this increases the ability to bike and walk to the center. While neighbors may walk to small markets, few walk to big box stores. Any location in the commercial district would better meet the comprehensive plan’s transportation goals.

Policy 3.2.3 states: “Retail commercial businesses, which are pedestrian or tourist-

oriented, shall be located in or near the proposed Riverfront, Blue River Parkway and Main Street districts.”

Staff argues the regional mall will not include businesses that are tourist-oriented or predominantly pedestrian land uses. Notwithstanding this inconsistency with the staff response to Policy 3.1.8, which argues most Silverthorne residents will walk or ride their bikes to the grocery store, this argument is flat wrong. Grocery stores in Summit County absolutely cater to the tourist. Tourists will flock to this new store, creating the same congestion that pro-mall residents complained about.

Policy 3.5.2 states: “Commercial projects shall be designed to mitigate any adverse impacts.”

While the staff recognizes the impacts such as light pollution, traffic and noise, it argues these issues can be adequately addressed with proper site planning. The best way to mitigate these impacts is to find a site in a commercial district.

Policy 3.5.3 states: “Commercial uses shall be encouraged which are compatible with Silverthorne’s liveability, mitigate any adverse impact and not disrupt residential areas.”

Town staff argues the proposal attempts to locate the commercial area as far as possible from existing residential areas. Further, it argues staff will work (as it did with Target) to mitigate these impacts as much as possible. Again, this argument begs the question. Put commercial development in commercial areas and the impacts that must be mitigated are less significant. Neighborhoods including Willowbrook, Ruby Ranch, South Forty, Hamilton Creek, High Country Tracts, Blue River Valley Ranch Lakes, Willow Grove, Blue River Mesa, Eagles Nest and Three Peaks will look down on the Safeway strip center and its lights.

Policy 3.7.1 states: “The town shall establish view corridors to prominent views from public areas. New projects shall be designed to maximize views to prominent features.”

Town staff dismisses this by arguing the town has not yet established or identified prominent view corridors. While accepting that the Smith Ranch offers the kind of view that was intended to be protected, it only says it will work to keep the peaks visible. This argument misses the entire point of view corridors. Most of the peaks can be seen from most of the town. The Smith Ranch is a view corridor, not just another place where a peak can be seen.

Policy 3.8.3 states: “The town shall encourage commercial activities that produce little or no adverse environmental effects to locate in the community to provide a more stable economic climate.”

Staff argues the strip mall will provide a stable sales tax base and diversity of retail opportunities. There is no mention of the impact of what developing another regional mall outside of the business corridor will do to existing businesses.

Insistence that upzoning the Smith ranch fulfills the comprehensive plan is based on the flawed assumption no other site is available. Many Silverthorne residents do not accept that argument. While developer Brad Kornfeld stated at the Jan. 22, town council meeting that he has examined every other possible location and no others work, the developer has also stated that any successful grocery store must be on the highway or at least clearly visible from the highway.

Since two other successful City Markets at Dillon and Breckenridge sit back from the highway, the credibility of the developer’s other statements becomes suspect.

Other sites are available. Some may require redevelopment of some of the land. That does not mean that any store owner or land owner must necessarily be disadvantaged. For example, cel Energy has a large equipment lot west of the new Target. Ample land for a large grocery store and attendant stores exists there. cel has expressed a willingness to relocate under the appropriate circumstances.

I think a fair reading of the comprehensive plan suggests the Smith Ranch view corridor should not become a strip mall.

The town disagrees. With a decision this important to the future of the town, should we vote? Isn’t this something that should be done only if there is a clear majority of residents who favor such a monumental change in the character of the town? Will town character lose out to convenience? What do you think?

Jim Shaw of Eagles Nest belongs to Silverthorne Advocates for Vote on Expansion. He can be reached at (970 668-0895 or jim@zeoponix.com.


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