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Keystone will become Colorado's newest town following incorporation approval

A mountain town neighborhood of duplexes built out of wood and covered in snow.
Business Wire
Snake River Village in Keystone, Colorado will be just one of the communities that will be incorporated into a town based on the March 28, 2023 vote to create Colorado's newest town.

Keystone is poised to become Colorado’s newest town, which will end decades of governance by elected Summit County officials.

Approximately 68% of voters cast ballots in favor of incorporation, with 291 votes of approval and 140 votes of disapproval, according to unofficial results released Tuesday night around 8:15 p.m.

The decisive victory for advocates of incorporation puts the resort community on a path for self-governance — so long as voters also approve a charter, the governing document for the town, at a later date.

“We’re happy that the citizens of Keystone see the need,” said Ken Riley, a Keystone resident who led the incorporation effort as president of two nonprofits, Incorporate Keystone and Keystone Citizens League. “This is the beginning of a major journey.”

Along with choosing to break from unincorporated Summit County, voters also chose who will form the nine-member commission tasked with drafting the town’s charter. Along with Riley, the commission members include Gretchen Davis, Dan Sullivan, Julia Metzger, Sarah Keel, Tim Huiting, William Schorling, Erich Swartz and Valerie Thisted.

“It’s been such a long road, but I’m elated,” said Thisted, a 5-year Keystone resident and parent of three Summit School District students. “I will use my spot on the charter to listen to the entire community. I believe every one of them has a right to be represented, it’s a big task.”

The push to incorporate began in earnest last summer when residents circulated a petition to put the question to a vote — marking the second such effort to do so in nearly three decades.

Supporters of incorporation rallied around what they called Keystone’s unmet needs, which included slowing traffic on U.S. Highway 6, improving pedestrian safety and increasing negotiating power with larger entities such as the Colorado Department of Transportation and Vail Resorts.

But while some residents and voters said they wanted more control over decisions that affect the community, others raised skepticism about a town government’s ability to solve Keystone’s issues.

Roman Kowalewicz, a 26-year-resident and owner of the 3 Peaks Lodge hotel, was among them. While he wasn’t surprised by Tuesday’s results, he is disappointed in the outcome.

Kowalewicz said he was worried additional lodging taxes may be levied on his guests. He was also not convinced incorporation would improve the state of Keystone.

“Now, it will be a battle for the charter, the rules of incorporation,” Kowalewicz said.

He hopes whatever is proposed will accommodate residents like him who were against incorporation as well as be inclusive to second-home owners who weren’t eligible to vote yet have a stake in the community.

Uncertainty also remains about the area’s financial future. Incorporation advocates have differed with Summit County officials about the projected costs and expenditures associated with creating and running a town. There was a roughly $1 million discrepancy in the expected year-over-year general fund surplus of the town through 2027, according to the two separate analyses.

Those who led the incorporation effort claimed the town will not need to raise property or sales taxes on residents. They floated other revenue ideas — such as a lift tax — to pay for future needs.

Of the roughly 970 active registered voters in Keystone, about 44% voted. Riley said he was impressed with the turnout, adding the near 2-to-1 margin of victory “gives us a mandate to go forward and complete the process.”

Though voters have approved incorporation, Keystone has yet to join the ranks of the towns like Breckenridge, Frisco, Silverthorne and Dillon as a home-rule municipality. Residents will still need to vote on a proposed charter which, if passed, will decide the structure of the town’s government. A town council election would then follow.

Residents have two opportunities to approve a town charter. If both votes fail to approve the charter, Keystone will become a statutory town rather than a home-rule municipality. Statutory towns — such as the towns of Blue River and Montezuma — face less local autonomy and greater governance by state laws.

Riley anticipates a charter vote could happen in late August or early September followed by a council election in December — meaning Keystone may not have a working government until early next year.

It will be a “major challenge,” but Riley said, “We’re going to try to be very attentive to the voters of Keystone.”