Housing clash looms in Frisco
Summit County, CO Colorado
FRISCO, Colorado ” Town plans to spur development of workforce housing on the Peak 1 tract are on a collision course with efforts by a citizen group to require a vote before selling, subdividing or leasing town-owned parcels larger than five acres.
In the latest development, the town council on Tuesday voted unanimously for a new zoning district designed to encourage development of residential neighborhoods with single-family and duplex units no higher than 30 feet.
The move came just a day after the Friends of Frisco Open Spaces group submitted a petition to the town that, if certified, would require two separate votes before any plans for the 12.6-acre Peak 1 parcel could proceed.
An ordinance approving the annexation of the Peak 1 parcel also was approved on first reading, with another hearing and final vote set for early February.
Based on the number of signatures on the petition, it’s likely that Frisco residents will be voting on the ballot question in April. Backers of the initiative said their effort is aimed at protecting open space and encouraging citizen participation in significant land-use decisions.
Town officials want to make it very clear that the Peak 1 land is not open space by any commonly accepted definition. They charge that the real intent is to block the town’s plans for developing housing on the Peak 1 parcel.
“It’s a move against affordable housing,” said Frisco resident Rob Murphy, who recently helped form a group called Families for Frisco to defeat the ballot measure.
Murphy, a 31-year-old who rents a home in town, made no bones about the fact that his group is a political action committee that will try to galvanize opposition to the initiative.
“We basically want to show people that a ‘no’ vote on this petition is a ‘yes’ vote for affordable housing in Frisco,” Murphy said. “But our over-arching goal is to dispel myths about affordable housing and the Peak 1 parcel.”
Although the citizen initiative does not specifically target the Peak 1 parcel, if it is approved it would require a subsequent vote specifically on the Peak 1 parcel before any development or sale could occur, according to Mayor Bill Pelham.
“This particular vote is a process vote,” said four-year Frisco resident Don Cacace, who has emerged as the primary spokesman for the Friends group. “We believe that process is a good one for Frisco … that it promotes consensus-building.”
Eight out of every 10 residents asked to sign the petition did so, he said, and only about 10 people who signed live near the proposed Peak 1 development.
“We were heartened by the response of Frisco citizens,” Cacace said. “Support for the petition was town-wide, showing that it’s not just a matter of opposing development on the Peak 1 land.”
Cacace noted an earlier ballot measure that also requires a citizen vote on certain land-use decisions.
“People in Frisco are passionate about their land,” he said. “This is about codifying and solidifying a law we passed back in 2002.”
According to Cacace, the town has thwarted the intent of that law by exempting certain parcels from the voting process.
“It’s about responsible development that reflects the will of the people. The town is now using loopholes to dodge the voters,” Cacace said. “I’m a fan of affordable housing, but I don’t feel it should be exempted from the process.”
Cacace, who described himself as being on the liberal end of the political spectrum, said he hasn’t yet made up his mind as to how he would vote on a Peak 1 development. He said he would need to look at the final plans for the parcel before making up his mind.
But critics of the petition believe the petition is aimed specifically at blocking the town’s affordable-housing plans and suggested that some people who signed the petition were mislead as to its purpose.
Some people who signed the petition said they thought they were supporting open-space efforts and that they weren’t aware that the measure could potentially be used to block development of affordable housing on the Peak 1 land.
Town takes stand
Town officials stand firmly behind their plans for the Peak 1 land.
“It’s regrettable that it wasn’t annexed and rezoned at the time of purchase,” Pelham said.
The mayor suggested that the petition “is really about Peak 1 and the Interstate parcel,” referring to the land near Safeway where an earlier proposal for a Home Depot was nixed by voters. “It really ties our hands.”
“There’s still a lot of misconception that this development plan (for Peak 1) is a done deal,” Pelham continued.
The final shape of those plans won’t be determined until the town puts out a request for proposals to see what can be done in the current economic climate, he said.
The town’s new zoning district ensures that any development on the land won’t be intrusive. The code language restricts development to single-family and duplex units, limits building heights to 30 feet and requires that 30 percent of the land remains undeveloped, Pelham explained.
Frisco Councilwoman Eileen Davies said the petition process hasn’t affected the timing of the town’s plans for Peak 1.
The public process up to now shows there is significant support for the Peak 1 master plan, she said, adding that it’s important for residents to know that the plan is to develop attainable workforce housing for locals; that it is not designed specifically for town employees (though they well may qualify); and that the development will include some market units with the goal of creating a neighborhood that is filled 100 percent with full-time residents.
Critics of the petitioners suggest it is a NIMBY move, for “not in my back yard.”
“This group, Friends of Frisco Open Spaces, seems to me to be a very parochial group,” said longtime Frisco resident and planning-commission member Bob Bloch.
“If you look at who it’s comprised of, the genesis, it’s in the neighborhoods immediately adjoining the Peak 1 parcel. They are the ones who organized this group. “
Bloch said the group’s open space argument is a thinly veiled way to disguise their own narrow aims and goals, which is to keep that space as it is for their own personal use. Bloch said the group’s purported goal of protecting town open space was negated by the town council’s move two weeks ago to add numerous town parcels to the list of officially designated open spaces.