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BoCo planners OK terminating conservation easement near Longmont

BOULDER — Despite hearing impassioned pleas from more than a dozen area residents, the Boulder County Planning Commission has voted unanimously to vacate a conservation easement on a large parcel just southwest of Longmont’s city limits as part of a developer’s plan to get the 40-acre parcel annexed into that city and win approval for a subdivision that could include around 426 housing units.

A rendering depicts the proposed Somerset Village development, on land outside Longmont that is currently designated as the Kanemoto Estates Conservation Easement. Courtesy Boulder County Planning Commission

Bestall Collaborative founder Jack Bestall, whose Lefthand Ranch LLC owns the parcel known as Kanemoto Estates, east of Airport Road and about a third of a mile north of Colorado Highway 119, envisions a diverse, energy-efficient residential community being called Somerset Village with single-family homes, duplexes, fourplexes, cottages, townhomes and flats — with “attainable” and “affordable” price points — as well as a bodega, ride-share plaza, early-childhood center and community center.

The Kanemoto family sold the parcels to Lefthand Ranch LLC for $1.22 million on Dec. 30, 2020.

The 5-0 vote Wednesday evening to approve vacating the 41-year-old conservation easement  followed nearly an hour of comments from the public in opposition to the plan, as well as scores of letters submitted to county planners in advance of the meeting.

Many of those who spoke to the panel either in person or virtually were members of KARES, or Keep Airport Road Environmental and Safe, which claims about 70 members. They had launched a GoFundMe page to pay for legal representation, and attorney Randall Weiner of the Boulder-based Weiner and Cording law firm wrote to the panel contending that ending the conservation easement would be in conflict with the Boulder County Comprehensive Plan, and that the county’s designation of the Kanemoto Conservation Easement in 1996 as a future development site also violated the comprehensive plan.

KARES member Joe Stasiak, saying he was “sad, dismayed and disillusioned” about Bestall’s  proposal, told the panel that vacating the easement and building a dense subdivision there would create at least 71 points of conflict with the comprehensive plan. Others cited the loss of open space, lack of access to rapid transit and traffic-safety concerns given that the stretch of nearby Colorado Highway 119 known as the Diagonal Highway records the most motor-vehicle crashes in Boulder County.

Testifying in favor of the development was David Emerson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley, who said he had worked with Bestall on the project and noted that such a development might actually reduce traffic because lower-income workers who can’t afford high-priced housing in the area now have to drive to Longmont from far away, whereas Somerset Village could give them “a place to own a home where they work.”

Approved in 1982, the Kanemoto Estates subdivision consists of three parcels: tracts of 3.9 and 5.6 acres, each with an existing house, and a 28.76-acre outlot. The land-use code required the granting of a conservation easement, which usually designates an area to be open space in perpetuity, but the easement included language to allow the easement to be terminated if the county decided later that development would be appropriate.

Mark Bloomfield, who chairs the planning commission, noted that the approval process wouldn’t end with his panel’s decision and urged opponents to take their concerns to Longmont’s planning and zoning commission and City Council, which must approve the annexation and then the development. Vice-chair Gavin McMillan added that the conservation easement will remain in place until and unless Longmont annexes the property — and if it is, he said, the county would be paid and could use that money to invest in more open space.

Noting that his main concern was looking after the interests of the county’s comprehensive plan and land-use code, commission member Sam Libby said “I have personal feelings” about the Somerset Village plan but “I’ll leave those comments for Longmont City Council and P&Z.”

Bestall, who also serves as board secretary for the Longmont Economic Development Partnership, won approval in December for annexation of a 7.6-acre property west of Airport Road between the Diagonal and Pike Road as the site of a 22-home Westview Acres subdivision. At the time, he said he had reduced the number of units planned for Westview Acres in response to neighbors’ concerns.

Source: BizWest