Blue Sky Ranch distillery appeal denied
February 1, 2013
Plans for the Blue Sky Ranch will move forward following a lengthy debate at the County Courthouse Wednesday night.
Councilmember Dave Ure and former Councilmember Sally Elliott appealed a decision by Community Development Director Don Sargent to approve a low impact permit for the property.
"I’m not against the distillery. I’m against the fact there are no conditions on it and I’m against the process by which it was put into place," Ure said.
Blue Sky Ranch, a corporate retreat to be built in Wanship, was originally approved as a 220,000 square-foot facility. But the plans were later amended due to economic conditions to 110,000 square-feet, plus the addition of High West Distillery to the site as an accessory use for the production of whiskey. However, the amendment requires a low impact permit.
Ure expressed concern about the impact the distillery would have on the surrounding area, and also said the permit should have required approval of the Planning Commission and not just Sargent.
The Eastern Summit County Development Code requires the Conditional Use Permit to be amended through a Low Impact Permit, which may be granted final approval by staff, as long as there is no increase in density or intensity.
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However, the planning department still held an Eastern Summit Planning Commission public hearing for additional input.
"We essentially went through the same process because we wanted make sure the public was aware of it and could provide comment. And we wanted to get input from the Planning Commission," County Planner Jennifer Strader said.
The Planning Commission forwarded a positive recommendation to Sargent on Dec. 19 in a 4 to 2 vote.
"I’ll be the first to admit that the code does not address all projects and applications equally," Sargent said. "All projects are different. Every application has a different situation associated with it. The code is not one-size-fits-all. There are going to be some unique qualities on how the code is applied."
Sargent added that he feels he and his staff followed the rules and did their job with regard to the Blue Sky Ranch application.
County Attorney Dave Thomas explained that governing entities generally use the least restrictive approval processes for property owners.
"So to the extent the amendments allow the property owner to have a less restrictive way of amending, generally speaking, you allow them to do that," Thomas said.
Brad Cahoon, the attorney representing Blue Sky Ranch’s interest, said the issue seemed to be more about the process than Blue Sky Ranch.
"It’s unfair to put Blue Sky in the middle of a dispute between elected policy makers," he said.
Cahoon also voiced opposition to Ure’s announcement that he would not recuse himself from the vote.
"I can tell you right now, I’m not recusing myself, Ure said. "I have nothing to gain in this. It’s costing me money, $515 so far, about 150 miles of travel and about 40 hours of time. And all I’m going to do is represent my constituents," he said.
Ure later agreed to recuse himself, acknowledging that as an elected official it would not be fair to be both an appellant and voting party.
Councilmember Chris Robinson said Sargent did not err in granting the permit, but he didn’t agree that the distillery is an accessory use and suggested they add a condition stipulating that no more than 15 percent of the produced whiskey be sold off-site on a wholesale or retail basis. Staff was directed to make the necessary changes to the language.
The appeal was denied in a unanimous vote.