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Resort to Test County Growth Cap

The ski resort industry these days is all about go-go base area development, especially at Colorado’s mega-resorts. Sprawling, multi-million dollar projects are the rule, from Snowmass Village to Vail-Lionshead, Durango Mountain Resort and many other hot spots.

But it’s not always clear how and if these massive resort complexes contribute much besides tax revenue to nearby towns and local residential areas. As the Vail Daily reports, the large-scale Vail-Lionshead redevelopment currently in progress doesn’t include much in the way of basic community amenities.

In one of the most recent proposals to hit the planning pipeline, Intrawest Corp. wants to revamp the plan for the base area at Copper Mountain Resort, in Summit County. The giant Canadian resort conglomerate wants to add about 600 new “equivalent units” of density. That’s on top of more than 700 units already permitted under the currently approved plan. And all that’s on top of what’s already been built at Copper to date.

Most of the new development would be slope-side residential units, condos and a planned Hard Rock Hotel, as well as some additional commercial space. But that proposal could once again run head-first into a county master plan provision that is aimed at preventing upzoning of private property, unless the development rights are transferred in from rural and backcountry areas. A previous plan for an even bigger expansion at Copper Mountain’s base area was denied by the Board of County Commissioners in 2004, based on concerns about development density and parking.

Another Intrawest plan, a residential-commercial base area development at Aspen-Snowmass, is currently snagged on a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permitting issue. The Canadian company has previously run afoul of the same federal agency with projects at Stratton, Vermont, as well as at Copper, where it installed unauthorized snowmaking pipelines several years ago.

Summit County’s growth cap was adopted several years ago, essentially establishing a “no-new-density” policy, with exceptions for transfers from the backcountry and for affordable housing projects. A vigorous transfer of development rights program in parts of the county has helped extinguish potential backcountry development on mining claims in outlying rural areas, while bringing some of those development rights into the core urban center of Breckenridge.

In the eyes of many, Summit County is already hopelessly over-developed (and derisively described as a Denver-West suburb). But the growth cap nevertheless does set forth a proscription on some the endless new development schemes that continually plague the quality of life for existing residents of the state’s mountain resort communities, where locals are increasingly asking themselves when enough is enough.

The latest Intrawest proposal for Copper will once again test that limit in a way that could set a precedent for other proposals in the resort-dominated county. This time around, Copper execs have added options to their proposal that could include a density transfer from the rural Lower Blue Valley, north of Silverthorne, to cover at least part of the upzoning they propose. But resort officials are hedging, claiming that the needed regulatory infrastructure for that transfer may not be in place in time.

So they’ve also proposed making a $1 million to $2 million donation to the local community care clinic, raising the question of whether deep-pocket developers can circumvent Summit’s growth cap by buying density.

The Copper proposal is at its earliest stages, with a first planning commission hearing scheduled for May 11.

About Bob Berwyn

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