Opinion: Lake Hill development should be carbon-neutral

Bob Berwyn.

Smart up-front planning can minimize our carbon footprint

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Passage of the Lake Hill land conveyance bill by the U.S. Senate last week is good news for Summit County’s efforts to try and keep up with the demand for affordable housing in the pricey mountain resort region, and will also help the U.S. Forest Service by funding a new administrative and maintenance facility. Now that the deal is done, it’s time to start thinking about making sure that the Lake Hill neighborhood becomes a model of sustainable development.

The new law conveys 40 acres of land on Lake Hill to Summit County. The parcel is located near Frisco, between the Dillon Dam Road and Interstate 70. County officials have long said the site makes sense for locals’ housing, given the ability to connect easily with existing infrastructure. In a separate but related deal, the existing Forest Service housing and maintenance complex in Dillon (near the town’s water treatment plant) will also be privatized.

Sen. Mark Udall and Rep. Jared Polis both praised passage of the bill, citing broad community support. The change in land ownership will support local businesses and “bolster Coloradans’ high quality of life,” according to Udall, and “will also help the U.S. Forest Service fund improved facilities,” according to Polis.

The land agreement caps a long history of collaboration between the Forest Service Service and local stakeholders on planning and development issues. Previous land deals have helped Summit County develop other community facilities, including the hospital.

And while it’s true that there was no outcry of protest about the conveyance of public national forest lands, there are always a few lingering questions — for example, there are concerns about encroachment into buffers between towns. It’s long been a goal of local planners to try and prevent local communities from sprawling into each other.

As a matter of general principle, some residents have questioned the overall balance of residential development. Is it really appropriate to chip away at public lands surrounding our towns after so much of the privately owned land has been approved for high-end residential development of second homes that are only used a few weeks each year? In that light, the move to take over public land for affordable housing development is a sign of a failed land use policy that didn’t adequately balance allocation of available lands to meet community needs.

But overall, the Lake Hill deal seems to make sense for Summit County. The land in question is squeezed in between Dillon Dam Road and I-70, so it’s not exactly a hotbed of natural resource values. The forests were hit by beetles and logged, and most recently, the enlargement of Old Dillon Reservoir resulted in heavy duty construction activity in the area.

Along with presenting a site for development of a great local community, the new 40-acre tract and the planned Forest Service facility in the same area also present an opportunity for smart. low-impact development that could be a model of sustainability for Summit County.

Local governments and planners, along with the Forest Service, should be thinking in terms of creating a carbon-neutral plan for future development at the site. It might not be possible to completely eliminate the carbon footprint of a new development, but starting with that goal would give us a chance to accurately measure how close we can come.

Specifically, planners should start thinking about how to provide locally produced power for new developments on Lake Hill, and it shouldn’t be an afterthought. Before any other planning begins, the site should be assessed for solar and wind energy potential, and the development should be scaled so that it doesn’t exceed the capacity for local power generation, or if it does, any energy that has to be imported should also be required to come from renewable resources. The Lake Hill land has a terrific solar exposure, and it would be surprising if the ridge between I-70 and the Dam Road couldn’t support at least a few wind turbines. Perhaps those renewable sources could be augmented with a small-scale biomass facility to provide power on cloudy winter days.

Planners also need to take a hard look at whether the proximity of I-70 presents any serious environmental or health issues. A series of studies during the past 10 years have shown that low-income neighborhoods close to major traffic arteries are exposed to harmful levels of pollutants. Monitoring air quality (and noise) at the Lake Hill site should start well before there’s any talk of development. Having a few years of solid baseline measurements available would help in the design of any needed mitigation and Summit County could be at the forefront of tackling emergent environmental justice issues associated with development of affordable housing close to freeways.

Summit County already does a pretty good job of addressing many environmental issues in planning and development, but like many other communities, we’re still lagging when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and the overall carbon footprint of new projects. Partly that’s because it’s a vexing problem — how do you truly calculate and mitigate those many diffuse sources?

But if we want to truly aim toward creating a sustainable Summit County, we have to try, Lake Hill would be a great place to start.


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