Still no decision on Thompson annexation
CARBONDALE – Town trustees remain undecided on whether to annex a 10.2-acre section of land that would include dedication of the historic Thompson family farm house for a museum, and allow zoning for up to 85 new houses.
Following another three-and-a-half-hour-long meeting Tuesday night to discuss details of the proposed Thompson Park annexation, separate motions to deny and approve the application both failed on 3-2 votes.
“I don’t think we’re ready,” said Trustee Stacey Bernot, who offered the motion to deny the project. “A lot of questions have been raised here even tonight.”
After her motion failed, Trustee Ed Cortez moved to approve the application by Snowmass developer Frieda Wallison. It, too, was shot down.
Trustee John Hoffmann was the swing vote in both instances. He indicated that he doesn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to preserve the Thompson house as a museum and generally favors the annexation, but still has concerns about the future development proposal that he believes need further discussion.
Bernot then offered the motion to continue the public hearing until Dec. 15, which passed 5-0. Mayor Michael Hassig has recused himself from the public hearing, as his architectural firm is representing the developer. Trustee Pam Zentmyer was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
The public hearing has been continued multiple times since the trustees began discussing the proposal over the summer.
Wallison and her development partners requested that the board make a final decision one way or the other at Tuesday’s meeting.
She had the backing of the town’s planning staff, which recommended approval of the application, saying it met the “above and beyond” criteria for annexations.
However, trustees were reluctant to approve the annexation based on a number of concerns; mostly that residential development in general doesn’t tend to pay for itself and will end up adding to the town’s general fund expenses over time.
“It’s like a dog chasing its tail,” said Trustee Frosty Merriott, who voted to deny the application. “I think the costs of this development would be far greater than the benefits.”
Bernot said she was surprised to see the staff recommendation and call for a vote on the matter.
“Even though it is a long process, it is a cumulative approach when you look at a project of this size, with this many impacts,” she said. “I am concerned about the costs, and I don’t know if this is something we should be accepting right now.”
Trustee Cortez warned that if the project is denied, future development will go outside town limits.
“We need to look at the big picture … and be a little more open-minded to these projects that come before us,” he said.
Wallison proposes to annex the section of unincorporated Garfield County situated along Highway 133, located between the Keator Grove and River Valley Ranch neighborhoods, informally referred to as the “county island.”
The proposal calls for rezoning the site to accommodate between 45 and 85 residential units. Carbondale’s Planning and Zoning Commission earlier this year recommended denial
If approved, and assuming all 85 houses are ultimately built, the project would include 17 income-restricted affordable housing units and 20 units reserved for resident owners. The developer has also agreed to impose a real estate transfer assessment (RETA) on the sale of free market units, which would generate an estimated $550,000 over 20 years to put toward the town’s affordable housing program.
The plan also calls for more than 2 acres of parkland dedication, more than the 15 percent required by town code, including the proposed Thompson Historic Park with the house and nearly an acre of land.
That, too, could generate revenue for the town by opening the grounds to private events such as weddings.
As for the house itself, a consultant for the town has estimated it will cost about $23,500 per year, or $456,000 over 20 years, for operation and maintenance expenses. The developer, however, has estimated that cost at around $11,000 annually.
Members of the Mt. Sopris Historical Society board said they would be willing to partner with the town to operate and maintain the house as a museum. The contents of the house have already been deeded to the historical society.
“I look at it as so much more than just an old house,” Crystal Valley resident Charlotte Graham said. “To whatever point Carbondale is going to grow, we need to preserve something about the core history of the town. And there’s nothing better than this house and its contents to do that.”
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