Debate continues over Cooper Creek Village Development
Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect the correct name of Cooper Creek Village.
Grand County residents remain divided over the Cooper Creek Village Development in Winter Park, as comments during a Sept. 6 meeting town council meeting showed.
Several residents stepped forward to discuss the development. Some expressed support of the project, including land set aside for the gondola and a hotel with full amenities. Others expressed concerns, such as increased traffic on Timber Drive and the placement of workforce housing far from town.
Developer Charlie Johnson, of JAC Colorado II, LLC, also spoke about improvements his firm made to their final development plan after evaluating previous comments from the public, such as preserving open space to benefit wildlife and recreation. Johnson also addressed new concerns community members voiced during the meeting.
Diving into the development’s history
Public hearings on the plan have been ongoing since October 2021, sparking debate each time. On Aug. 16, 2020, developers presented the town with their plan, which showed Cooper Creek Village encompassing two areas. The first area comprises 53 acres and is bordered on the south by U.S, Forest Service land, north by the Idlewild Meadow, east by Beaver Village Condominiums and west by Hideaway Village South.
The second area is 6 acres and includes 10 parcels in town: nine are north of town hall and include the Cooper Creek shopping center and associated parking lots; the other is located south of Vasquez Road next to Winter Park Station.
The development includes areas in unincorporated Grand County, which will be annexed into the town, and Winter Park’s town limits.
Some residents in agreement
At the Sept. 6 meeting, several community members expressed thanks for the improvements the developers had made to the plan, which they said alleviated one major concern: Idlewild Meadow, an area of open wetlands by Idlewild Subdivision that was previously marked for development, will now remain untouched.
“I want to acknowledge that (Johnson) has worked with us, and we’re very appreciative of the decision to leave Idlewild Meadow as passive open space. Yay, wildlife! I was ecstatic,” said Cathy Ratschkowsky, a resident of Idlewild Subdivision.
Bob Wolf, former member of the town council and past president of the Winter Park Water and Sanitation district, explained the town has made many agreements with Denver Water over the years to increase Winter Park’s water supply, with now 6,037 taps available for development.
“It may seem that we’ve been building at an increased rate … and our water may be running short, but that’s just not the case,” said Wolf.
Grand County resident and business owner Mark Johnson spoke of the benefits of providing more amenities and housing in the town, with Winter Park Resort now on the map as one the nation’s most popular resorts.
“This project is good for us,” Johnson said. “We’re not a sleepy little resort town anymore. In fact, we’re on the edge of international stardom … we’ve got some of the best skiing in all of North America.”
Winter Park resident Chris Siewak expressed cautious optimism of the project, first congratulating council members and the developer, but cautioning that Cooper Creek Village must keep the intimate, small-town appeal of Winter Park intact.
“I’m worried about the soul of this town,” he said. “I moved here because this is a place where you can show up on the ski mountain with duct-tape on your clothes and no one judges you. People look out for each other here, young people move here, and it’s a family-type thing. I just don’t want to see this place turn into Vail. That being said … I try to focus on the positive and getting excited for this project moving forward.”
Siewak added that one facet that would bring residents on board with the project is ensuring all of the created workforce housing be in Winter Park. According to the current agreement between the town and developers, some workforce housing could conceivably be located as far away as Red Dirt Hill.
The town council and Johnson spoke to this point. Both parties conceded that all the housing might not be constrained to the downtown limits, but there are 45 deed-restricted bedrooms secured for location in Cooper Creek Square. As the town expands, Johnson and the town questioned if they wanted to be “boxed into a corner” by designating all workforce housing to the downtown area, but stated it was ideal for housing to be close as possible to Winter Park.
“I agree that we have to keep the workforce in the town of Winter Park, and it does create the soul …. and culture of a community. That’s what we want to do with workforce housing,” said Johnson. “Our project has the highest workforce housing requirements of any project that’s ever been proposed in the town of Winter Park.”
Siewack and Wright petition community members to work where they live
After the meeting, community members Chris Siewack and Bob Wright decided to take one more step beyond public comments. The two took to the streets with a petition voicing the need to keep affordable housing within the development’s boundaries. Wright submitted the petition, along with a letter to the town council, after they had obtained signatures residents. Wright said the signatures were obtained from nearly 100 residents in Winter Park businesses on Sept. 12 and 13.
“With more time I feel that this list could be continued into the hundreds or more. I received zero opposition from the community when presenting them with this petition,” stated the letter. “Some people said they weren’t into politics but nobody was opposed to keeping workforce housing within the Cooper Creek Development. Everybody was opposed to the idea of workforce housing being as far out as Red Dirt Hill.”
Wright explained that he and Siewak visited 22 Winter Park businesses. They also received signatures from several business owners in both Fraser and Tabernash.
“Many signers were visibly upset when presented with the idea that workforce housing for Cooper Creek Development might not stay within development boundaries,” the petition’s letter said. “People are happier when they live where they work. There are so many issues with trying to build a workforce community outside the jurisdiction of Winter Park. Policing, Fire, Transportation, Mental Health and the list goes on.”
Time will tell where affordable housing may be constructed, as the town continues to evaluate the project and the future face of Winter Park.
As one of the largest developments in Winter Park thus far, the town council has spent many hours with the developers to work out an agreement that ideally benefits not only tourism, but the locals who make the community a special place that tourists want to flock to. As Siewak stated on Sept. 6, “That’s what gives the soul of the town — the people who live here all the time, who spend money during mud season. The people who live here all the time care. Let’s keep them here.”
With the public hearing closed, the town will continue to meet with the developers to finalize agreements. The next town council meeting is Sept. 20.
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