Tree Farm project in El Jebel increases affordable housing to try to earn county approval | AspenTimes.com

Tree Farm project in El Jebel increases affordable housing to try to earn county approval

The developer of the Tree Farm project in El Jebel has increased the amount of affordable housing to try to gain approval from the Eagle County commissioners.

Landowner Ace Lane and his Woody Ventures LLC increased the number of deed-restricted affordable-housing units from 43 to 50. In addition, they proposed designating 150 of the remaining 290 residences as resident-occupied housing, meaning the buyers would have to reside in the Roaring Fork Valley or some geographic area defined by the county.

Lane's proposal came with a caveat: The 150 resident-occupied units must be sold within 60 days of availability or they can be sold to anyone.

The 150 resident-occupied units would be built incrementally over 15 years or so, not at one time, according to Jon Fredericks, a land-use consultant for Lane.

The commissioners will resume their review of the application at 5 p.m. today at the Eagle County office building and community center in El Jebel. The commissioners also set aside June 26 for a possible continued hearing. A vote could come as early as today or at the later meeting.

The Eagle County planning staff was impressed with the revisions, according to a staff member listing the changes. "Revised housing plan exceeding the Eagle County Affordable Housing Guidelines," the memo said.

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Lane gets extra credit for renting some units to households with incomes below the area median income. He gets partial credit on the 150 resident-occupied units.

All told, Eagle County calculated the Tree Farm affordable-housing credit as the equivalent of 100 units.

Resident-occupied housing has a mixed record in the Roaring Fork Valley. Basalt altered the designation during the recession when some desperate homeowners complained they couldn't resell their units. They contended lenders were wary of the resident-occupied designation.

In the upper Roaring Fork Valley, there are 523 resident-occupied units in the affordable-housing inventory, according to the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority. That includes 359 with no price cap and 164 with caps. The "average maximum sales price" for the units with caps is $844,248. Other units have sold for more than $1 million, raising questions among some observers on whether they qualify as affordable.

Lane's team is proposing that the resident-occupied units at the Tree Farm come without price caps.

The county commissioners said in public hearings in April they wanted to see more affordable housing as part of the project. Lane and his team are proposing to build 340 total residences and nearly 135,000 square feet of commercial space. The property is on the north side of Highway 82, across the road from Whole Foods.

The project has been controversial since it was resurrected late last year. Critics contend the high-density project will increase traffic and degrade the quality of life in the midvalley. A lesser number of proponents say the project will provide badly needed affordable housing. Critics countered that it won't offer enough affordable housing for the price the valley will pay.

Among the official written comments submitted to the county, opponents outnumber proponents 45 to 9 when duplicate letters are eliminated. There were five neutral comments, many of which raised questions.

The opponents include Basalt council members Auden Schendler, Gary Tennenbaum, Bernie Grauer and Jennifer Riffle as well as Mayor Jacque Whitsitt. The town of Basalt also formally urged the commissioners to deny the project. They are concerned about the effects of the development on Basalt.

Tim Belinski, a businessman representing the owner and developer of Willits Town Center, Mariner Real Estate Investment, also opposed the project, particularly the commercial component. He said Willits has built 272,000 square feet of commercial. About 25 percent of it is vacant and unrented. Another 126,000 square feet of commercial space was approved at Willits in 2001.

People who have gone on the record in support of the Tree Farm project include former Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens, Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork President Scott Gilbert and Jim Light, who was on the original development team of the Roaring Fork Club.

The Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission recommended denial of the Tree Farm proposal.

The Tree Farm team has made numerous revisions as part of the ongoing debate. The latest revision on affordable housing was submitted to the county May 23.

In addition to adding affordable housing, Lane's team also disclosed a "flex" option in its latest revision that could convert some commercial space into additional residences.

The revision explained that 60,550 square feet is being eyed for a 100-key hotel at the Tree Farm. If the hotel concept doesn't fly, Lane wants to reserve the right to convert it into housing, with a maximum of 50 additional condominiums or apartments. He also would be required to build affordable housing mitigation if the project was altered.

scondon@aspentimes.com

IF YOU GO

What: Tree Farm project review

Who: Eagle County Commissioners

Where: Eagle County building in El Jebel

When: Thursday at 5 p.m.

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