Guest Column: Byers Peak annexation petition puts Fraser at risk
July 9, 2013
On May 29, the Fraser's Board of Trustees approved the annexation of Byers Peak with a 6-1 vote. This came after an exhaustive effort by the Town beginning in 2007 to make the best decision possible for the future of Fraser and its residents, including months of public testimony and difficult negotiations with the landowner. The Plan was recommended to the Board by the Fraser Planning Commission after several public meetings and three public hearings on May 25, 2011. For the next two years, two different boards carefully evaluated the annexation at workshops, study sessions and public hearings too numerous to list here. The question was never whether Byers Peak Ranch would be developed — the question was whether it would be developed in Fraser or the County.
Concerns surfaced when we read in the Sky-Hi News that Andy Miller and Jane Mather were taking steps to submit a petition proposing to place the question of the annexation on the ballot in an effort to take this decision out of the hands of the board. The basis for this is they feel the annexation agreement could be better, they do not understand parts of the agreement "so don't trust it," and the process did not allow for sufficient public input. These assertions could not be further from the truth. The Board listened carefully to residents and negotiated an agreement with the landowner that reflects residents' concerns. If the agreement was any more on the side of the town there would be no agreement and the landowner would be proceeding to develop in the county – which may still happen if the annexation is overturned.
Yesterday Cheri Sanders and I met with Jane and Andy to go over their concerns and explain parts of the agreement they said they did not understand. For example, they believe the developer is not paying the way. Fraser's policy is that development pays its way and Byers Peak is required to pay for all costs and assume all risks. There have been suggestions that the Town does not have sufficient water – this is also not the case – our water attorneys and engineers have certified that the town has more than sufficient water for the entire Town and Byers Peak, but needs local water storage facilities to protect the water rights. They believe that the developer is getting free water taps from the town – this is not true, the developer must pay for and construct facilities that may be reimbursed with water taps only for the actual costs certified by the town from the purchase of taps within Byers Peak — protecting residents outside Byers Peak from paying for improvements that will be necessary with or without its development.
We met to see if the proposed election that could undermine years of good faith efforts could be averted. The benefits of the annexation will protect the town's water rights and obligations; reduce future costs; create revenue; create jobs; expand the Town's economic base; establish development controls; and require Byers Peak to provide water rights and construct reservoirs to satisfy existing and future water augmentation needs. We think the agreement is very important to Fraser's future and we found that revenues from water/sewer tap fees, building permits, plan review fees, use tax fees and property taxes may help stem the steady decline in town revenues, and are much greater than costs to the Town for the development.
The Board did not come to its decision easily. But, we want the residents of Fraser to know that we kept our fiduciary responsibility to make responsible decisions that are in the best interests of the town. Six out of seven Trustees who voted in favor of the annexation believe that the agreement is not perfect, but residents will lose much more by letting Byers Peak be developed in the county. During the discussion yesterday it became evident that Andy and Jane have other reasons for opposing the annexation. We respect the effort that Jane and Andy have made to provide input during the process and we asked them, for the sake of Fraser residents, not to proceed with the petition and risk losing the benefits of the annexation as negotiated. Proceeding with the petition places Fraser at greater risk and increases costs to its residents.