The town of Frisco, like the other area towns, is preparing for its fast-approaching municipal election, with ballots now in the mail to residents and due back to Town Hall by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5.
In preparation, the town hosted an evening mayoral and town council forum this past Wednesday, March 9, so citizens could hear what each candidate brings to the table. The three contenders for mayor, incumbent Gary Wilkinson and challengers Kathleen Kennedy Bartz and Daniel C. Kibbie, Jr., were on hand, as were seven of the nine candidates for the three open council seats.
The clear theme of the evening, from the mayoral discussion to the introduction of those vying for town council, was that the town is at a crossroads. With that in mind, all but one of the night’s participants agreed affordable housing for the local workforce, as well as for long-term residents, is the chief issue that needs to be addressed by decision-makers.
“We’re in a crisis, and we have to figure out how to solve that,” said mayoral candidate Bartz, a resident for 16 years and presently on the town council. “We need to find land and think outside of box to do it because affordable housing is an ongoing process.”
Of those in attendance, the lone candidate not to list housing as the top obstacle facing Frisco was council candidate Deborah Shaner, a resident of 10 years and currently serving on the Frisco Planning Commission. She placed it second, citing the need to update local zoning codes in order to prepare for smart, closely tied growth and development as the foremost priority.
Incumbent councilman Larry Sawyer, who has served in the capacity since 2008, concurred that zoning needs to be of prime concern.
“We can wish for all things,” he said, “but, without sorting out the zoning code, it doesn’t happen. Right now, there’s no land, and the code is not written to provide affordable housing, so we need to sit down and work through the code for action.”
Another popular talking point during the nearly two-hour dialogue was how best to maintain the balance of preserving Frisco’s small-town personality and atmosphere with increasing tourism and growth. The approach to keeping up infrastructure (and the relationship with the Colorado Department of Transportation) as well as developing the western entrance to Main Street off Interstate 70, were related aspects that drew consistent attention.
“We’ve been talking about that on Main Street and seek a good mix,” said Mayor Wilkerson of what types of enterprises fit best. “We want Main Street to be the core and continue to identify what Main Street is and just recently made a $6-million investment. I’ll never allow national chains on Main in order to protect that character, support local business and keep its charm.”
Kibbie Jr., who also ran for mayor of Frisco in 1992 and has been a member of town council since 2014, meanwhile, said if he were elected he’d wish for more retail shops, restaurants and hotels on Main Street. He also said he would be more pro-active in emphasizing additional nearby recreational offerings for the year-round population of not quite 3,000.
“We need more recreation options closer to home, so we don’t have to travel with all of the congestion of Highway 9 and I-70,” said the former longtime Copper Mountain Resort employee and presently a waiter at 5th Avenue Grill. “It’s right outside our back door, and we need to make it better.”
Specifically, Kibbie, Jr. presented the ideas of a master plan for the Miners Creek area, on top of more trail creation and the availability of kayaks at Officers Gulch Pond. Joining in on the topic of recreation was town council office-seeker Jessica Burley, a resident of Frisco for five years and programs manager at the High Country Conservation Center, also known as HC3.
“We need to ensure Frisco has a sustainable, environmentally-friendly future,” she said. “We have a resilient community that is interested in an enhanced trail system, and the goal is to tie all of that together, providing recreation so people don’t need to leave to recreate.”
Housing led the focus of the conversation throughout the event, however, with several candidates — including council hopefuls Donna Skupien, Rick Ihnken, Burley and Shaner — indicating a need to get involved in the recently county-acquired Lake Hill parcel sooner than later. Skupien, the Frisco Planning Commission chairwoman, and Matti Wade, a 15-year resident of Summit County and owner of Ten Mile Creek Kayaks in Frisco, talked of the need for smart and creative ways to solve the problem, addressing the potential acquisition of some CDOT-owned land where the agency currently houses several trailers.
“There’s a recurring theme of housing here,” noted council candidate Martin Allen, owner of Table 31 Imports, a wine importer in Silverthorne. “There is deed-restricted housing for the middle class and upper-middle class, but what can be rented at an affordable price? That puts pressure on our workforce, and, in order to maintain our vibrant, unique culture, we need to dig into this issue deeply.”
Absent from the event were council candidates Richard Nell, an 11-year Frisco resident with a background in the telecommunications, hospitality and law-enforcement industries, and Chris Sorensen, a senior manager at Breckenridge Ski Resort who has lived in Summit County for 11 years.
Frisco residents have another opportunity to learn about the candidates running for office when the Summit Association of Realtors, Summit County Builders Association and the Summit Daily sponsor a Frisco and Silverthorne town council forum at the Summit County Community and Senior Center in Frisco on Tuesday, March 15. The Silverthorne portion runs from 11 a.m.-noon, followed by a half-hour lunch and meet-and-greet with candidates from both towns,and then the Frisco forum from 12:30-2:30 p.m. The event will be moderated by radio host Jim Williams.