This week, our Town Council and Board of County Commissioners again spent nearly two hours haggling over one paragraph within the Comp Plan Update: the language for northern South Park (NSP). And it is no coincidence that the desire for drastic changes in the Comp Plan Update came after a major subdivision proposal surfaced in late February.
Starting to analyze the Gill proposals
Originally, the Gill family offered the Board of County Commissioners a “choice” on 100 acres: grant them an upzone on all 100 acres to build 488 lots, with only 6-8% deed-restricted, or they would develop 83 mansions already allowed by-right.
Now, their proposal has evolved. The Gills have formally requested an upzone on 74 acres (the green) to build about 300 detached single family homes, with the potential for small accessory structures to serve as additional housing, while remaining silent on the other 26 acres (“S” yellow triangle). And despite language in the current Comprehensive Plan stating that NSP would not be developed until determined “necessary” during an update – unless “meaningful permanent open space” was also part of the bargain – no conservation has been offered. The benefit to affordable housing also remains unclear.
The developers say that 65% of the housing will be deed-restricted for workforce, though they haven’t said if any of it will be restricted to diverse income levels. This small word choice is key: income-based “affordable” restrictions ensure that locals at various income levels, including those most in need, can afford a home, while “workforce” restrictions mean that anyone who works in the county (but most likely doctors, lawyers, and financiers) could qualify – so sales prices would likely be out of reach for most of our workers. Meanwhile, the Gills could also build the 83 mansions anytime.
We’re still digging into the numbers, but this appears to be a 54x upzone in density, with only 51% of the overall units deed-restricted.
Ultimately, this subdivision raises a lot of questions. The most important being: if the community grants an upzone – a gift worth hundreds of millions of dollars in additional development rights – what community benefits are we getting in return? Are we getting that value back in affordable housing and permanent conservation?
Now is the time for a full neighborhood plan
If now is the time to build out NSP, then we need to do it right and with the funding to support it. That means we finish the Comp Plan Update and complete a neighborhood plan that includes all of NSP (such as the potential 83 mansions and the new CWC campus) while considering development plans for town (like “midtown” and the Fairgrounds). The neighborhood plan will inform any future zoning, but if the Board of County Commissioners grants a massive upzone now, there will be nothing left to keep the Gills at the table for that holistic discussion.
Back to the haggling
Though the town and county have so far agreed to jointly plan NSP, the discussion on Monday came to a head on one phrase: whether the neighborhood plan should be done by the town “and/or” the county or the town “and” the county.
We believe the town and county should have an equal footing in deciding the fate of NSP. Although NSP is in the county, it is on the town boundary, and a subdivision of that size would rely on and impact infrastructure paid for by the town, including systems for transportation, pathways, sewer, and water. And when the town later annexes the development, it would also inherit the costs of a development pattern that some commissioners would prefer to solely dictate.
The town voted unanimously for the “and,” alongside Commissioners Newcomb, Propst, and Macker. That’s a good thing. Whether the town will have equal weight is undecided – but this early decision is promising.
Our elected representatives haven’t yet decided the timetable for a public review of the revised draft update of the Comp Plan – which will determine the fate of NSP and the Gill proposal. We’re uncomfortable that these decisions are being made at a time when our community is most focused on public health and the related economic crisis. The fate of NSP should be decided by all of us, and at a time when we can all safely and effectively participate.
Thoughts, questions, or ideas? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Brooke, Community Planning Manager