Planning commission OKs downsizing for Elk Rest Village

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By The Staff

The planning commission voted 6-2 to limit the number of residential units to 12 instead of 22 in the proposed Elk Rest Village multi-use complex on Swede Gulch Road in El Rancho Town Center.

The Sept. 10 vote affirmed the planning commission’s original decision on July 30.

The recommendation goes next to the board of county commissioners Sept. 30 for a final decision.

The planning commission was hearing the case for the second time after the county commissioners asked the citizen board to re-examine the allowed density level.

Jim Spaanstra, chairman of the planning commission, argued for the higher number because of the high price of gas and the opportunity to encourage more people to work and live in the same place.

“Mixed use is a way to address issues of energy efficiency and living where you work. Moving from 22 to 12 units takes away the ability to do mixed use in activity centers,” he said.

Other members argued the surrounding housing developments are low density and the 22-unit complex, on top of retail, didn’t offer a good fit.

The applicant and landowner, Simourgh Land Investment LLC, is seeking rezoning from restricted commercial to planned development to allow 36,000 square feet, 22 dwelling units and 5,000 square feet of retail on 7 acres.

Because the property is in the El Rancho Town Center, it was zoned for as much as 90,000 square feet of restricted-commercial use, mainly medical and office buildings.

The project has irked a substantial number of neighboring homeowners, who are alarmed at the idea of a condo complex but were in favor of an office building.

About a half dozen neighboring residents turned out to object to the prospect of 22 residential units.

One person argued that the applicant was “density stacking” by combining residential and commercial in the same building.

“The residential density doesn’t take into account the commercial part. El Rancho Town Center is viable with nine units of residential,” said Liz Campbell, representing the Swede Gulch Homeowners Association. “This would be three units per acre if it were only residential. Now you are adding uses.”

The planning staff concluded 22 units were justified on grounds that the Evergreen Community Plan doesn’t make any recommendations regarding density for multifamily developments unless it is affordable housing (seven to 15 units per acre). The staff interprets that to allow up to 6 units per acre of market-price housing.

“Because the project is near the periphery of the activity center, it is staff’s opinion the maximum allowed density should be 3 du/acre with excellent site design. (21 units),” writes planner Alan Tiefenbach in a background memo to the planning commission.

Nancy Eisenbud, a member of the Silver Rock Homeowners Association, said 12 units were acceptable, but the design could not be described as outstanding.

“The design is out of step with the times,” Eisenbud said. “The area has not been built out with mountain architecture, like they talked about in 1983.”

She said the community plan calls for clusters of small buildings, not “sticking a large building on the hill.”

“There is a large difference between 22 units of barking dogs and 11 units,” she said.

“I think 12 units was genius,” said Tandy Jones of Evergreen North Area Balanced Land Use Effort, or ENABLE. “ENABLE is totally behind 12 units.”

Raule Nemer, an attorney for Lindra Chowdry of Swede Gulch LLC, said the large building did not constitute a desirable transition to the surrounding large-lot residential development. She also argued the project did not meet the standard of a quality development.

Developer Bill Parker defended his project on conservation grounds, saying it would provide live/work opportunities.

“With oil prices rising, we need to take a hard look at putting units above office. If it’s downstairs, it means I’m not getting there in a car. I’m trying not to burn more gas. Living in the mountains is s blessing, but we are creating part of the problem if we have to drive downtown.”