Planning commission rejects higher density proposal in Carbondale
Efforts toward a large-scale residential development on Colorado 82 near Catherine Store Road hit a dead end before the Garfield County Planning Commission on Wednesday evening.
Commissioners unanimously rejected a proposal for a new land-use designation, “residential village,” that would allow for higher density – up to 400 homes in the case of a 41-acre parcel east of Carbondale – that’s owned by the applicant.
The new land-use designation would have been the first step toward the large residential development on part of the former Cerise ranch. The developer had been promoting it as an opportunity for median income families, but it had also drawn the ire of neighbors who want to keep the rural character of neighborhood.
About 20 members of the public spoke, and none of them favored the proposal put forward by Gatorcap, which is based out of Aspen and Miami. Though affordable housing is desperately needed in Garfield County and the Roaring Fork Valley, residents didn’t think workforce housing of this magnitude belongs in the rural area.
Ken Arnold, of Gatorcap, focused on the county’s need for workforce housing. He pitched the development near Catherine Store Road as an ideal location that could cut the commute time of upvalley workers. Arnold promoted the project as one that could be priced to provide housing for teachers, public employees, hotel workers, restaurant workers and employees at small businesses.
He even proposed adding a stipulation requiring that homes be priced below 120 percent of the area median income.
Arnold also argued that building workforce housing within the municipalities is more difficult due to the shortage of space and higher costs for land and building.
“According to a 2006 housing needs assessment Garfield County needed 3,895 affordable housing units at that time. Since that time only 964 permits have been issued. So the current process to get workforce/affordable housing is not going to accomplish the goals you’re trying to achieve,” he said.
But the planning commissioners, residents who spoke at the meeting and other local governments that weighed in were decidedly convinced that high density housing does not belong in such a rural setting, and outside of the existing “urban growth areas” of the municipalities.
The new high density designation would have allowed five to 10 homes per acre, whereas the current “rural” designation requires a minimum of six acres per home.
“On a hypothetical 41 acres, that’s potentially 400 units. If you put three people in each house, that’s 1,200 residents,” said Tom Smith, an attorney representing the nearby Lion’s Ridge HOA. “You’re talking about creating, in effect, a new municipality outside of the current municipalities of the county, and outside the current growth areas of the county.”
Numerous other residents raised other concerns about traffic impacts, pedestrian safety and the development’s access to water and sewer services.
The location of this proposal is based off what the county comprehensive plans calls “village centers.” There are only four in the whole county. One of them centers on Catherine Store, located at the corner of Colorado 82 and Garfield County Road 100.
The comprehensive plan does envision these village centers as launching points for slightly more development, but planning commissioners agreed that Gatorcap’s proposal was far larger than intended.
Still sitting on the planning commission are three members who were involved in writing the county’s comprehensive plan, and they all agreed that “village centers” were not created with a mind for this type of development to branch from them.
Planning Commissioner Greg McKennis, who was one of those veteran members, said that allowing this level of density would open the door to creating essentially a new municipality in unincorporated Garfield County; equivalent to another Battlement Mesa scenario.
A second application on the commission’s agenda was to change the 41-acre property to the proposed “residential village” designation, but that became a moot point after the board denied the first proposal.
While there is nothing stopping Gatorcap and the property owner from applying for a rezoning anyway, county senior planning Dave Pesnichak said that getting the land-use designation changed first was the preferred route. Without it, the staff would likely recommend denying any rezone, as it would not comply with the comprehensive plan.
Arnold said frankly after the meeting that he didn’t know what the project’s next step would be, though he left the door open to applying for a rezone for the property.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.