Grand Lake rejects part of Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre request, considers recognizing rights of nature

The sun shines on Grand Lake Town Hall in this 2020 picture. The town's board of trustees meets every second and fourth Monday of the month.
Robert Mendoza/Sky-Hi News archive

The Grand Lake Board of Trustees wants to take the affordable housing crisis seriously. At their meeting June 28, they rejected a request from Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre to waive an affordable housing requirement on their new development for that reason.

The theater is replacing eight of their nine employee cabins at 450 Broadway St. in Grand Lake and sought final approval for their building plans. They asked for four exemptions from usual town building requirements, and the trustees granted them three. The board rejected a request to waive the affordable housing fee required by the town code.

Grand Lake’s planning commission had recommended the board approve all the exemptions, and Mayor Pro-Tem Ernie Bjorkman even expressed support for the affordable housing fee exemption. Local developer Jim Kreutzer spoke on the issue, arguing that the town needs to start making developers build affordable housing, and the trustees unanimously rejected the request.

A miscalculation during the meeting led the board to believe the fee would be $100,000. Karen Smith, a trustee on the theater’s board, said that amount would “be significant” for the theater’s project, which is funded by private donations. Town Clerk Alayna Carrell interrupted discussion a few minutes later to say the fee would actually be $7,100.

“You had my treasurer over here sweating,” Smith said. “Okay, so seventy-one hundred. I would prefer not to (pay the fee).”

The board unanimously decided to deny the request. Trustee Daryn Packer said before the vote that she might feel different if the fee was $100,000 like the board originally thought.

“I just feel like we either have to start getting serious about it or not,” Packer said. “Not to be saying I have anything against the Repertory Theatre, I love what they do, but I think this is something that we as a community are agreeing to, which is, affordable housing is a really big priority.”

Affordable housing came up again later in the meeting when the board discussed using a building on the Matthews Parcel as housing for seasonal marina workers. The parcel, which the town annexed earlier in June, has two houses, and the smaller one could host two employees at a fair market price through the end of September.

Mayor Steve Kudron proposed the idea to the board, but pointed out that renting the house would mean the town could no longer sell the houses without approval from the people. The trustees directed Kudron to prepare a lease and bring it back to the board for approval.

Nonprofit and board look at rights of nature resolution

Kirsten Heckendorf and Ken Fucik represented water groups collaborating as Live Water Alliance to ask the trustees to approve a resolution to recognize the rights of nature in Grand Lake and its watershed. Heckendorf said recognizing these rights would be a way for the town to show support for water conservation efforts. 

“The biggest economic asset to this town is the lake and the tourism that the lake provides,” Heckendorf said. “We want to protect that.”

Approval of the resolution would grant Live Water more legitimacy when meeting with other groups by letting Heckendorf and others say they have the backing of the town. She said the alliance wants to put pressure on the Bureau of Reclamation to address issues in the Colorado water system, which needs to be “completely rethought.”

Michael Tompkins, a retired patent attorney and Grand Lake resident, commented on the resolution, expressing concerns that recognizing the rights of nature could open the town up to litigation. 

“What you’re saying is that the lake has the same rights as human beings do, and then you just have to decide who can enforce those rights,” Tompkins said. “There’s nowhere, that I’m aware of, that this has worked.”

While Tompkins said he had found instances online where communities recognizing similar rights of nature led to lawsuits, Fucik and Heckendorf emphasized that the resolution has “no teeth” because it isn’t an ordinance or law. Heckendorf said language could be changed if necessary, and the trustees voted to adopt the ordinance pending approval from the town attorney.

Other business:

  • Denver-area developer Susan Powers and Marjorie Joy from the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority spoke to the board about affordable housing.
  • The trustees held a workshop on ways to improve the town’s short term rentals policies.
  • In public comments, Kyle Masterson said he thinks the town needs an off-leash dog park and Mindy Nelson expressed frustration to the board about delays in getting her liquor license application approved. 
  • The board approved the accounts payable and reviewed the May financial report.
  • Public Works Director Keith Everhart gave a report to the board, focusing on Fourth of July preparations and cleanup and hiring more workers in his department.
  • The board waived fees for the Peaks and Pines Quilt Show to rent the Grand Lake Center on July 8-10.
  • Trustees renewed liquor licenses for One Love Rum Kitchen, the Gateway Inn and Rockies. They also decided to allow trustees with liquor licenses to vote on licenses that are not for the businesses they own. 
  • The board further discussed their interest in Colorado’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act. The trustees must opt in or out before Dec. 31.
  • While discussing future items for consideration Bjorkman asked what the trustees would do about the green building — which the owners painted an unapproved color — and Kudron said it would be addressed soon.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the corrected name of a public commenter.

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