Affordable housing, quality of life dominate debate in midvalley

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
The Fields project, with 97 to 110 residential units, is proposed on 19 acres of pasture and agricultural land across Highway 82 from Blue Lake subdivision.
Aspen Times file photo |

The review of a midvalley development proposal Tuesday night became a classic case of the debate over the need for affordable housing versus a strong desire to preserve the quality of life and safe living conditions.

About 20 people provided public comments to the Eagle County commissioners about The Fields, a subdivision proposal for as many as 110 residences along Valley Road, across Highway 82 from Blue Lake. The speakers were against the proposal by a 3-to-1 margin. The Eagle County commissioners continued the hearing after a five-hour hearing in El Jebel.

Numerous residents of Valley Road said they understand the property can be developed, they just don’t want zoning increased to the level sought by the developers. Current zoning allows one house per two acres. The developers want roughly 5.6 units per acre.

Numerous speakers said Valley Road isn’t constructed to handle existing traffic, let alone another 100 homes. They said they purchased their houses with the understanding that the adjacent horse pasture and surrounding land was zoned “rural residential,” with large lots.

“You can only stuff so much in the area, but it looks like you’re trying to stuff your pockets,” said Pam Wood, a resident of the adjacent Summit Vista subdivision and president of the homeowners association, to the development team.

Dana High, another Summit Vista resident, said she moved to the midvalley area years ago for the rural feel.

“I think you should deny this for the preservation of the lifestyle that we all moved here for,” High said. “This will destroy it.”

But supporters said the project is worthwhile because it will provide 24 to 27 deed-restricted affordable-housing units. The free-market component would feature 27 single-family homes of around 2,100 square feet, 26 duplexes of about 1,800 square feet and 32 larger duplexes — housing allegedly more attainable than most of the valley’s stock.

“There’s no one here speaking for the people who don’t have homes,” Vanessa Kirianoff said. Two-acre lots aren’t affordable in the Roaring Fork Valley, she noted.

Molly Potts countered that affordable housing can’t be added at the expense of other factors, like safety of neighborhood residents.

“Affordable housing is an issue and we need to address it, but this isn’t the development to do it,” Potts said.

Two construction industry workers said they would welcome affordable housing opportunities. Rich, whose last name was unavailable, said he commutes from New Castle but would prefer to move into the Roaring Fork Valley so he spends less time driving and more time with his kids.

Nathan Vetter said he rents in Missouri Heights but wants a greater opportunity to own affordable housing. “I hope we can find some middle ground here,” he said.

Neighborhood resident Jeff White gave emotional testimony when he said Crown Mountain Park is only 150 yards from his home and he takes his three little girls there often, “but it’s a scary 150 yards.” The traffic levels and lack of shoulders or bike paths makes the trip precarious for the girls, he said. He questioned the accuracy of the developer’s traffic study that claimed The Fields would add only a small amount of traffic to the overall mix.

He asked the county commissioners to consider “maybe drawing a line and thinking about a moratorium for this part of the valley.”

County commissioners Jeannie McQueeney, Jill Ryan and Kathy Chandler-Henry didn’t declare a moratorium but they did provide the development team with a list of questions they want answered in future deliberations. Those include traffic impacts on Valley Road and Highway 82.

The Fields has two strikes against it. The Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission voted 4-1 this winter to recommend denial after heavy public input. The planning staff also recommended denial for traffic-related reasons.

The commissioners continued the hearing to an unspecified date. The hearing will be held again in El Jebel.