County gives OK to Buffalo Apartments, ignores CDOT
Garfield County commissioners Monday reversed their position on an apartment complex at the site of the former Buffalo Valley restaurant south of Glenwood Springs, approving development plans that could set up a fight with state transportation officials over access to Highway 82.
The county board voted 2-1 to approve developer Norman Bacheldor’s 54-unit Buffalo Valley Apartments, to be built on the 2.2-acre site near the busy, awkwardly angled intersection.
Bacheldor acquired the property out of a foreclosure action two years ago, and has been trying to develop an apartment complex as an alternative to another restaurant or other commercial use, which he says would generate even more traffic.
The new plan is slightly smaller, three fewer apartment units, but has more on-site parking included than a previous plan that was denied by the commissioners in April 2014.
Still a concern, but even more contentious now due to recent developments involving the Colorado Department of Transportation and Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, is safety at the Highway 82 intersection at County Road 154.
The decision to deny the previous version of the project last year came after commissioners expressed serious concerns about safety at the intersection, and a lack of a plan by the developer to help pay for any improvements there.
CDOT requires an updated highway access permit whenever new development is approved that would add a certain amount of traffic to a highway access point, as it did when the county OK’d the Skylark School last summer.
The small, private Christian school now operates out of the Mountain View Church, which sits just north of the Buffalo Valley property.
Last month, CDOT put the county on notice that it was out of compliance regarding the road intersection because recommended safety improvements related to the school had not been done, and the county had not applied for or received an access permit.
In approving the new apartments, the county board, with Commissioner Mike Samson dissenting, waived a standard condition that the developer obtain a CDOT access permit before construction could begin.
Commissioners also waived a suggested condition requiring an updated traffic study to meet CDOT’s concerns and the county’s own code requirements, saying a study done in December 2013 is adequate.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky led the way in essentially calling CDOT’s bluff, saying the traffic study that was already done does not suggest a need for intersection improvements based on the estimated 500 new vehicle trips per day that would be added by the development.
“There is a traffic light there, and that intersection is better than at least a half dozen other major intersections in the county,” Jankovsky said, adding his main concern in voting to deny the project last year was because there was no acceleration lane for right (eastbound) turns onto Highway 82.
“Now there’s a sign saying no turn on red,” he noted, suggesting that takes care of the problem.
Jankovsky’s position also gets to his oft-stated objections to RFTA’s draft Access Control Plan, which also comes into play at the intersection because of the Rio Grande Trail crossing at that point. Any major intersection improvement would have to comply with RFTA’s as well as CDOT’s access plan, making any new development cost prohibitive, he said.
Requiring a new traffic study that could trigger the need for the developer to pay for intersection improvements “is so onerous that this project couldn’t go forward,” he said.
“The benefits of this project have been well-spoken regarding the need for local housing,” Jankovsky said in reference to numerous comments at the Monday hearing by several business, construction and real estate representatives in support of Bacheldor’s plans.
Commissioner Samson said he wasn’t so sure the county should be taking the legal risk if CDOT either requires the county to pay for the intersection improvements, or in the interim puts up a barricade blocking access onto the highway, as was mentioned as a possible, though admittedly extreme, response from CDOT.
“Push is going to have to come to shove” on the highway access question, Samson said.
“No one disagrees that Glenwood Springs needs more housing,” he said. But at what risk, Samson inquired of commissioners Jankovsky and John Martin, who also supported the decision.
CDOT officials were not in attendance at the meeting to respond to the county’s decision.
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Glenwood Springs’ officials continue to ask residents and visitors to use caution particularly around river access points within the city’s numerous parks.