Ace in the hole after rejection of plan
October 5, 2006
The Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission on Thursday rejected Ace Lane’s application to build 245 residences and 93,000 square feet of restaurants and retail shops in El Jebel.The board voted 5-1 to recommend the Eagle County commissioners deny approval when they review the project. The board majority said the project was too large.The 200 acres where Lane wants to build the project is across Highway 82 from the Willits Town Center project, just upvalley from the old El Jebel mall and trailer park.The planning commissioners all credited Lane with coming up with a “green” design that includes a pedestrian-friendly layout, building techniques that promote high energy efficiency and use of solar power.”It would work really well if it was less dense,” said planning commissioner Temple Glassier.The traffic the project would generate is “the killer,” said planning commissioner William Vannice.Opponents of the project hammered away at the traffic issue. Organizers sent out e-mails to scores of midvalley residents over the past two weeks trying to get people to attend the public hearing and speak against it. The e-mail apparently struck a chord by noting that the project would generate more than 7,500 vehicle trips per day.About 100 people attended the hearing, and roughly half opposed Tavaci. Among the supporters were 25 or so people employed by firms consulting on the project – a fact flushed out when foe Harvie Branscomb asked everyone who wouldn’t benefit financially from the project to stand up.The supporters and opponents of the project made the public hearing seem more like a sports contest – trading points back and forth with each speaker.Theatrics aside, traffic stole the show. Planning commissioner Tom Newland said traffic congestion was so bad in the midvalley this summer that it once took him 20 minutes to travel four miles between Basalt and El Jebel. It sometimes took five or six cycles to proceed through traffic signals because so many vehicles were stacked.Newland said he couldn’t imagine adding 7,500 vehicle trips to that mess, even if Lane’s traffic consultant contended the Willits-Highway 82 intersection could handle the increase easily.Newland said he was “torn” on the project, but ultimately felt it was too much, too soon. “I look at that and say it would kill us if it happened all at once,” he said. He proposed phasing that would allow Lane to build only a few units per year, sticking to an annual growth rate of 2.5 percent – similar to what Pitkin County targets.Planning commissioner Tony Vagneur noted that landowners in Pitkin County always seem to propose the maximum they can build on their land. Vagneur and other planning commissioners noted that the El Jebel area is already absorbing the Willits project – which will add 250,000 square feet of commercial space and 400 lofts and condominiums in a town center along with 550 additional residences in surrounding neighborhoods. Basalt approved that project.”This is a rough neighborhood. The question is how rough do we want to make it?” Vagneur saidBoard member Kelly McKenney cast the lone vote against denial. She indicated she wanted to give Lane a chance to alter the plan to fix shortcomings. “If you can solve the traffic problems, I don’t care about density,” she said.The board ultimately voted to recommend denial based on the proposal’s lack of conformity with the “future land use map,” a 15-year-old document Eagle County uses to guide growth in the midvalley. That plan would allow the density Lane is proposing, but in a different configuration. Lane maintained his plan was significantly better than what the code would allow – a point some planning commissioners didn’t argue.More than one member of the planning board suggested Lane might want to reapply once the land use plan is updated. He indicated he was more inclined to exercise his right to have the county commissioners vote on the project.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.