Basalt, Eagle County officials will talk about midvalley growth
Now that the recession is wearing off and development is cranking up again, elected officials in the middle Roaring Fork Valley plan to meet to discuss how to handle growth.
The Eagle County Commissioners agreed recently to meet with the Basalt Town Council on the condition that no specific projects get discussed, according to Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon, who extended the invitation.
The elephant in the room will be the Tree Farm project. El Jebel-area landowner Ace Lane wants to build up to 400 residences and 134,558 square feet of commercial space on his property across Highway 82 from Whole Foods Market. Eagle County is reviewing the application because the property is outside of Basalt and in unincorporated territory.
Basalt officials believe Lane should be forced to apply for annexation into the town. They said it makes sense for the town to handle the land-use planning so the Tree Farm is better coordinated with Willits Town Center and downtown Basalt. Lane doesn’t want to be annexed into the town, and he cannot be forced to go that direction.
The Basalt Town Council asked the Eagle County Commissioners in early January to meet to talk about the Tree Farm. The commissioners declined. Their response hinted they feared such a meeting would fall outside of legal propriety.
In an opinion piece that ran Tuesday in The Aspen Times, the three county commissioners said they couldn’t talk to members of the public about the project outside of the official public hearings that will be held during the formal review.
“For example, if you had to go to traffic court, you wouldn’t want your neighbor bumping into the judge at the grocery store and telling him that you’re a bad driver,” the commissioners wrote. “It’s a silly analogy, but we use it to make the point that legally, we can no more have discussions on a specific planning file outside our hearing room than a judge can outside the courtroom.”
Scanlon said he hopes to use the joint meeting to discuss how the governments provide services to an increasingly urbanized midvalley. For example, he said, perhaps it makes sense for Eagle County to contract with Basalt to provide law enforcement services throughout the Eagle County swath of the midvalley. Basalt police already provide routine backup to the Sheriff’s Office, which has limited staffing in the valley.
Scanlon also has been a regular advocate of coordinated planning between the governments. He said he wants to avoid a scenario where Basalt is reacting to a proposal because it creates an “us-versus-them” conflict.
Basalt officials expect renewed growth pressure in the midvalley after the recession put development on hold from 2008 through 2013. Some of the demand will be spurred by the success of Willits Town Center, where Whole Foods is located.
“Once something becomes successful, everything pops up around it,” Scanlon said. “The pressure isn’t going to go away.”
So, the discussion isn’t about any one project, according to Scanlon. “I think this is a discussion that needs to be a lot bigger and more robust,” he said.
The meeting between the Basalt Town Council and Eagle County Commissioners will be held in Basalt Town Hall during a regular work session Feb. 10.
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