Packed house for Sunlight meeting |

Packed house for Sunlight meeting

Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Sunlight Mountain Resort has lost almost a million dollars operating over the last 11 years, and the ski area must build a base village to survive and fund on-mountain improvements, said president and chairman of Sunlight, Inc. Richard Schafstall.

“When this ownership came in 20 years ago they found a local ski area with a lot of potential suffering from an old infrastructure and little or no cash,” Schafstall told the Garfield County Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday.

He said shareholders “never received a dime” of dividend in 20 years and never made enough profit in any one year to purchase a grooming cat, “let alone a major capital improvement like a new lodge or heaven forbid a new lift.”

He spoke during a hearing before the county planning commission on a proposal to redevelop Sunlight. But a decision was not reached by a press deadline. The hearing was expected to continue next week.

Sunlight is under contract for sale to Florida-based Exquisite Development. The deal is contingent on winning county approvals for development. Exquisite’s plan includes 830 residential units including three villages connected by gondola and 110,000 square feet of commercial space. Of the residential units, 50 would go for employee housing. The development would be used to fund on-mountain improvements like new lifts, terrain, a mountain-top restaurant, and more snowmaking.

The Glenwood Springs City Council asked the planning commission to deny the application due to what it said was the developers poor treatment of impacts like housing, traffic and public safety. Garfield County planning staff also recommended the planning commission deny the proposal.

Developers requested a change to the county’s comprehensive plan so that all the property would be designated as recreation to allow for the proposed development. County building and planning director Fred Jarman said the area is surrounded by the lowest density zonings in the county and asked how a development that would house more people than towns like Silt, Parachute and New Castle fits in. The development would be expected to house over 3,000 people. Jarman outlined a staff report citing additional concerns about slope constraints, soil instability, incompatibility with surrounding land use, traffic impacts, road conditions and distance from urban services.

County staff also worried that on-mountain improvements would be eclipsed by residential and commercial development, and that the developer wouldn’t be required to build the on-mountain improvements.

Attorney Larry Green, representing the developers and potential owners, said his clients have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and 18 months working on the application, and they only learned for the first time last week that county staff believes the project should be in effect killed.

“What that means is neither this board nor the Board of County Commissioners nor the members of the public will get to address the heart and soul of this application,” Green said.

Green argued that it was not the intent of the comprehensive plan to prevent development of a ski area at Sunlight, and that residential and commercial uses like the Brettelberg Condominiums have already existed under the recreation designation.

Jarman had said the recreation designation pertains more to the activity of skiing itself and it was never intended to be “a catch all umbrella that would allow virtually unlimited development to support that recreational activity.”

Many members of the audience wanted to speak during a public comment period and were still doing so after 10 p.m. People filled the seats in the county commission meeting chambers and spilled out into the entryway to stand and listen.

Trish Hittinger said she didn’t think adding a high density residential complex would improve Sunlight and make it more of a recreation destination. She asked commissioners not to approve the proposal. She worried the development would fail financially.

“I think they grossly underestimated the amount of money it will take,” she said.

Marianne Virgili, president and CEO of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, said “We have come out in support of Sunlight and our slogan is ‘save our local ski area.'”

She said the only way to improve the resort is through a change in the county’s comprehensive plan that would allow for development of a base village.

Contact Pete Fowler: 384-9121

Post Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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