Big Boulder, LLC Urban Sprawl Continues in Upper County

By Peg Bryant
April 2004

The City of Roslyn is taking a very principled position, at the county level, against a tidal wave of inappropriate, speculative development in our area. Most members of the city council believe that the many applications for rezone from Forest and Range to rural 3-acre lots are a direct assault on the quality of life here in Roslyn. The beloved, forested perimeter of Roslyn could easily be destroyed. The risk of too many homes, too little water, too much traffic, and strained city services are very serious threats.

It is important, however, to be pragmatic and to consider the real political situation in our County. Any honest observer would conclude that the county commissioners are pro development at any cost. So recently the City Council was placed in a moral dilemma when Big Boulder LLC made a number of attempts to persuade the city to withdraw its opposition to the proposed zone change. Big Boulder owns about 121 acres in section 16 immediately adjacent to Roslyn's urban forest above the Whitehead ranch. Additionally, they wanted direct access to the city street system and the option to build as many as 30 to 40 houses on 3-acre lots.

Of course, Big Boulder has no water right and is planning to sink exempt wells. It is believed that hundreds of new wells will reduce the total surface water availability calculations at Rosa Dam. Down stream irrigators have an earlier priority date and could require Roslyn to drastically curtail water use as was done in 2001. These new wells are unregulated and so would not be affected. In other words, these new residents would be taking water that rightfully belongs to Roslyn and other down stream users. The County Commissioners are allowing a zoning change from Forest and Range (that did not require water) to Rural 3 (which does require water availability to serve new development) without considering the impacts or current residents. This is precisely the kind of inappropriate development to which the City is objecting.

However, at a study session in January Big Boulder said they would consider significant permanent conservation easements on the edge of their property that borders the city limits as well as along the important recreation trail in Number 6 canyon. Bringing two core issues of the City into opposition created the dilemma. On the one hand the City is very concerned about impacts on our water and other essential services. On the other hand, dedicated open space on the city perimeter and along hiking trails on the ridge is also very important to the community. A delegation of city council and community members and representatives from Big Boulder conducted a snowshoe tour of the land to consider negotiating a conservation easement. The City Council was careful to weigh the benefits of these negotiations against the possibility of setting a precedent that other development speculators could later use to empower their rezone applications in other areas.

In the end, Big Boulder offered very little. They agreed to a 25-foot perimeter buffer for about one half of their land bordering city limits, most of which is already logged with no trees. They also offered 100-feet around the hazardous mine entrances to the City for a "park". In Number 6 Canyon, they identified only slightly more land for the trail than they would be required to leave undeveloped because of the stream.

The City Council ultimately felt that what was offered by Big Boulder was insignificant compared to the threat to the Cityís vital interests. It was decided to send representatives from the council to the county planning commissionerís meeting to reiterate the Cityís opposition. However, in spite of this testimony, the rezone was approved.