The long-contested Ruby Placer development in Blue River will go to vote on Tuesday, Sept. 15, with several ballots already submitted. While initial conversations about the planned residential property began as early as 2013, the project was paused several times, as concerned Blue River residents questioned the town’s use of emergency ordinances to rezone and annex the property.
STATE OF EMERGENCY
The first of two emergency ordinances was read and passed in July of 2014, annexing the 48-acre Ruby Placer parcel into the town of Blue River. However, an injunction filed in the Summit County District Court last September found that the annexation was invalid, as Blue River had failed to follow certain procedural requirements, with a contested four-to-one vote on the emergency ordinance listed as one example, .
Later, on March 3, 2015, the town passed the annexation of Ruby Placer as a regular ordinance. But just a month later, a petition forced the town to either abandon the ordinance or send it to a town-wide vote.
“To my understanding, they were doing everything they could to prevent it from being a public process.”Tony BabichBlue River resident
Danny Teodoru, legal counsel for project developers Cabin Properties, LLC and Carl A. Schmidt Living Trust, said the emergency ordinance was necessary to get the ball rolling.
“We wanted an emergency ordinance because we didn’t want to be in a state of limbo,” he said. “At some point, if you don’t start developing, a project won’t go forward.”
With hopes to have started construction last summer, he thought the ordinance was justified. He added that emergency ordinances were a “term of art” in Colorado, with the town of Blue River having already seen 23 in previous years.
“There would still a huge amount of public process; it just meant we were able to get going right away,” he added.
Other citizens disagree, saying they are frustrated with their lack of voice in the matter.
“To my understanding, they were doing everything they could to prevent it from being a public process,” said Blue River resident Tony Babich. “People spent quite a bit of time and their own money just to get a vote.”
IN THE ZONE
The property was rezoned as a planned residential development on March 17, 2015, after the town passed a second emergency ordinance. The zoning would allow the plat a maximum density of six units per acre of land.
Under county standards, nearly 44 acres of the property were zoned as A-1 agricultural land, permitting the development of one unit per 20 acres, while the remaining 2.83 acres were zoned as R-6 residential, allowing six units per acre. Under these standards, just 23 residential units could be developed.
However, Teodoru noted that the Schissler Condominium Subdivision Plat Approval, voted in by Summit County Commissioners in 1966, would allow for development of 48 condo units on a .8-acre parcel just behind Lodge by the Blue. Summit County no longer recognizes the original plat approval, as it was voted in before the county adopted zoning regulations in 1969.
Applying the Schlissler plat standards to the rezoned Ruby Placer parcel, the developers propose a maximum of 68 single-family and multi-family units to be developed in “pockets” with the highest-density areas near Lodge by the Blue and large tracts of public and private open space closer to the more sparse surrounding developments. In total, the land will be divided between 23.3 acres of developed space and 22 acres of open space, including a small community center and park.
“It’s a centralized impact for much more open space,” Teodoru said. “How do we blend density into larger land area while still preserving open space? How do we be a benefit to the town, rather than another burden?”
With the election just a week away, both proponents and challengers of the annexation are canvassing the streets of Blue River. Mitch Weiss, an opponent of the annexation, said “Vote No” signs had gone missing just a day after they were posted along Highway 9 last Wednesday. He added that while he was holding up a sign opposing the development, he had received an arrest threat from a town official.
“It’s scary that you have a small town government that’s runaway crazy about making this project happen,” he said. “At least people have the right to vote, the opportunity to vote and that’s what’s important.”
The facts of the annexation, and the development itself, are a major source of contention. Several questions, including the following, have circulated during the last week:
What kind of units will be developed?
A maximum of 68 residential units will be developed, as either single family, duplex or multi-family units. The plan includes space for several 2,000 square-foot “cabin” homes, to be developed in pockets, as well as 3,500 square-foot single-family and a few larger, multi-family homes. Teodoru does not expect to develop the full 68 units in the end project, as “there are still many levels of review process left … Just because you have zoning for 68 units doesn’t mean you get 68 units.”
How much will they cost?
According to a fiscal impact analysis by BBC Research and Consulting, units are valued at approximately $600,000 per unit. A mixture of full-time residents and second homeowners is expected.
Does Ruby Placer meet the Joint Upper Blue Master Plan recommendations?
A major point of contention: While the master plan is an agreement between the county and the towns of Breckenridge and Blue River, it is not necessarily binding in the case of Blue River. The town was excluded from density reduction strategies in the 2011 master plan due to the lack of opportunity to reduce density within town boundaries and desire to increase property tax base.
Will there be any commercial development on the property?
A 2.3-acre commercial/mixed-use area adjacent to Highway 9 is reserved on the Conceptual Development Plan but is not available for commercial use unless Blue River adopts a commercial zoning district and applies it to the area in the future. The area would be suitable for a small commercial development, such as a coffee shop or gas station; otherwise, it will simply be used as additional residential space.
What will the town gain?
According to BBC Research and Consulting’s fiscal impact analysis, the town would collect new revenues of approximately $96,929 per year or $1,425 per unit, once the property is built out after about 10 years. The town’s annual operating budget is approximately $900,000. As the town collects no sales tax, property taxes account for 64 percent of the town’s revenue.
A real estate transfer assessment (RETA) will help provide extra revenue to the town while helping fund Ruby Placer’s Homeowner’s Association. For each sale, .05 percent will go to the town and .05 percent will go to the HOA, which will be responsible for the upkeep of roads, utilities and other functions. A park, community center, bus station, miles of trail and a high ropes course are planned. The community center is slated for construction eight years after the initial groundbreaking.
How does Ruby Placer’s density compare to surrounding developments?
Ruby Placer: With a maximum of 68 units on 48.2 acres of land, the resulting density is 1.41 units per acre.
Lodge by the Blue (formerly Skier’s Edge Condominiums): 7.5 units per acre.
Quandary Condominiums: 45.6 units per acre.
Timber Creek Estates Subdivisions: 1.1 units per acre.
39 Degrees North: 1.61 units per acre.
Anaconda and Daisy Subdivision: .67 units per acre.
What if the annexation does not pass?
The developers would not have to rezone for construction on county land; however, several portions of the development would be affected. The community center, park and other town-specific benefits would not be built, and the residential portion of the development would fall under county standards.
“The residential part of the development would also be affected, in terms of what is developed, but the property would be developed all the same,” wrote Mara Sheldon, a spokeswoman for the developers. “The county has already affirmatively acknowledged no less than 23 units of density on the property.”
For the two A-1 lots, while density is limited, there are no limits on square footage of the main residence, and few limits on accessory structures and uses. She added that the 48-unit Schissler plat might also come into question.