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Glenwood: Sunlight ski area expansion clears hurdle

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler/Post IndependentFall colors light up the landscape at Sunlight Mountain on Thursday afternoon. The ski area faced a vote last night regarding plans to further develop the ski area.
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” A plan to build a base village and revive Sunlight Mountain Resort received a step toward approval from the Garfield County Planning Commission Wednesday night.

Planning commissioner Terry Ostrom said the project should go forward, in part because, “the folks out there didn’t elect us and the fact that we could deny a project based on not approving this comprehensive plan I think is an injustice to democracy.”

Commissioner Jock Jacober said, “I don’t think that we would be denying the project. I think that’s a mythology that’s been built up in this room that the ski area’s going to disappear if you don’t have 800 units at the base.”



The commission voted 4-2 to approve the developers request to change low density residential designations at the base of Sunlight to recreation on the county’s comprehensive plan. Another hearing will be held on the planned unit development application on Nov. 12, which will address specifics of the development.

Florida-based Exquisite Development entered into a contract in late 2006 to buy Sunlight contingent on winning county approvals for development. Sunlight has said the resort lost almost a million dollars operating over the last 11 years and it needs the development to survive.



The plan includes 830 residential units, 50 of which would go for employee housing, plus 110,000 square feet of commercial space. The development would be used to fund on-mountain improvements like new lifts, more terrain, a mountain-top restaurant and more snowmaking. Construction could take 15 years and the redeveloped area is expected to employ 750 people compared to Sunlight’s current 160 mostly part-time employees.

Around 22 of over 60 people in the audience offered opinions mostly supporting the proposal. Many said the resort ” an economic asset for the county ” boosts other businesses in the winter and could die without the development.

Bridget Jankovsky, daughter of Sunlight’s general manager Tom Jankovsky, said she grew up ski racing at Sunlight and continued on the freestyle team at the University of Colorado.



“I hope you approve this amendment for future generations of ski racers so that we can continue to have a team here in Glenwood Springs,” she said.

Erin Walla, group sales manager for Sunlight, said Sunlight can’t compete with other resorts because of the lack of on-mountain lodging. She said groups have been known to fill Glenwood’s hotels and instead go to Aspen or Vail.

John Mechling said Sunlight’s owners have gone out of their way to benefit the county at their own expense. He added “the owners deserve and actually are owed” changes to the comprehensive plan to allow for further consideration of the development.

Jerry Jones, a former executive for Keystone, Beaver Creek, Snowmass and Sun Valley, said, “This is something that is really dear to my heart because the ski industry in the U.S. has gone from about 800 ski areas in 1970 to under 500 today. … The U.S. Forest Service statement is there will be no new ski areas in the U.S., so if one falters, it’s not coming back.”

Critics of the project said it’s far too large for the area, doesn’t fit in with the surrounding land uses and there’s no guarantee developers would build on-mountain improvements. Bruce Newman, who lives on Four Mile Road, said the larger Copper Mountain has less residential development at its base than the Sunlight plan calls for with just 750 units.

“Picture a base area development as large or larger than Copper Mountain at the base of Sunlight,” he said. “It just doesn’t fit in. A 12 mile long, narrow, winding road will not be adequate to access a city of 3,500 people.”

The Glenwood Springs City Council had asked the planning commission to deny the application, saying the developers inadequately examined impacts like traffic, housing and public safety. Garfield County planners also recommended denying the proposal over concerns including slope constraints, soil instability, incompatibility with surrounding low density residential zoning, traffic impacts, inadequate road conditions, and worries that the development, which could house over 3,500 people, would be too far from urban services.


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