Stalling or sprawling: facing the challenges of growth |

Stalling or sprawling: facing the challenges of growth

As the town of Silverthorne faces a self-imposed struggle with growth, we have the blessing of being able to make decisions which will paint our future. What will Summit County look like in five years? Or in 50? Growth may be inevitable, but how we grow is entirely up to us.

As Silverthorne sprawls north along the Blue River corridor, developers and town officials, along with some citizens, envision new shopping centers to serve northcounty, as some call Silverthorne, Dillon and areas north.

At the same time, others are loudly protesting the current plan to pave the Smith Ranch and build a new Safeway and other shops.

The Silverthorne Town Council voted Oct. 8 in favor of preliminary plans for rezoning for the project. A final decision will come within two weeks.

The debate has many facets: There is the idea that growth should stay in the town center, the question of how badly northcounty needs another supermarket and a larger feeling that natural beauty is being sacrificed for dollars.

Some say opponents to the development are merely putting off what will happen sooner or later. Those in favor see a great location and an asset to the community.

Those opposed see Summit County starting to look not unlike a suburb of Denver, as we begin to fill in open spaces with fresh buildings and roads.

Silverthorne lacks the small-town charms of quaint Colorado spots like Ouray or Buena Vista, or even Breckenridge. The factory stores and fast-food restaurants that serve the Interstate 70 exit are not the prettiest part of our mountain environment. Yet these businesses serve a purpose and were built to meet consumer demand.

It’s undeniable that we are growing, and plenty of us are realistic and not entirely against retail. So, why can’t that retail development be attractive? And, in this case, why can’t it be in Silverthorne’s town center?

While storefronts remain empty in the factory stores, it’s been suggested we use this space, condense existing stores and dedicate one part of them to a new shopping center. The town has started its core facelift with the pavilion and bikepath improvements.

Old buildings and ragged lots still surround the post office area, which could and should be the true heart of town. Developers have said there’s no space there big enough for a supermarket. Yet many citizens see a lot of potential in this area. Why not take the next step and create a space for new development there? Think of the boon to the businesses already established in that area if it was beautified.

Just down the road, Breckenridge is a model for avoiding hideous big box developments, and there’s plenty of great shopping in town. Mountain dwellers are often willing to travel to shop, even for groceries. Some of us want views of peaks, trees, rivers, lakes and blue skies a lot more than we want convenience. At the moment, people drive from all over (Fairplay, Alma, Placer Valley, Blue River, Tiger Road, Farmer’s Korner) to shop at the Breckenridge City Market. Will the future bring more retail to those areas? No doubt.

Yet it seems we so easily forget that we can be a part of the process of growth, that we can shape the appearance of our surroundings. When these new stores and more new homes sprout up, what will they look like? Perhaps as we choose what our booming community becomes, we should make our retail as diverse as our people. Facing a new Safeway, people are asking, why not a different chain store, if we must have a chain store?

Citizens have asked for a natural foods market, Trader Joe’s, Wild Oats or Whole Foods. People in Summit drive 70 miles to Denver to shop at Wild Oats, which suggests there are dollars to be made with such a plan. But it is Safeway that wants to be here. So do we simply say, “OK”? If one phone call was not answered in looking into the possibility of a natural foods store, should we give up so easily? This is our landscape, our future. Shouldn’t we be passionate and determined to make it the best it can be?

Many of us moved here to get away from urban sprawl and then decide, foolishly, that we can’t live without a big box book or bath store, which is totally depressing and hypocritical. The truth is, we can’t have everything. We must choose something.

Are we going to be apathetic and just let a money-motivated developer tell us we are the ones who are “cowering from growth” when in fact those in favor of the development are cowering from truly smart growth, which is a lot harder to make happen?

Dillon pulled a table cloth of cash out from under its neighbor with Dillon Ridge, the City Market shopping center that looms over Silverthorne. This is a great example of where we have failed miserably to maintain the quality of life we came here to pursue. Consider the case of those who have homes across the street, with the lights of the shopping center shining in their windows.

Can’t we build attractive shopping areas? I know it’s possible.

We are at a turning point, a decisive moment in our community’s history. We can choose to turn down the current Safeway project and find ways to thrive without it. We can fall into our old, bad habits of apathy and say, “it was going to happen sooner or later anyway,” as we shop at the new store.

Or, we can choose to be happy with a new development and say, “look at this beautiful Safeway. The folks back home would sure be jealous of this view in my backyard.”

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