Basalt mounts final assault to move office from tree farm |

Basalt mounts final assault to move office from tree farm

There was no love lost on Valentine’s Day between Basalt and Eagle County officials over the future of the Mount Sopris Tree Farm.

The Basalt Town Council and midvalley residents launched a final assault to try to persuade the Eagle County commissioners to build their 15,000-square-foot government office building and community center at the Willits project rather than at the tree farm.

The Basalt Town Council approved a letter Tuesday night that listed why Willits is allegedly more desirable and implored the county to be more responsive to residents of the Roaring Fork Valley.

Meanwhile, citizens led by Laurie Gish-Soliday submitted a petition to Eagle County Tuesday with nearly 200 signatures of residents who demanded a public hearing in the Roaring Fork Valley to select a site.

Eagle County administrator Jack Ingstad wasn’t impressed Wednesday by the one-two punch. He said the tenor of Basalt’s approach changed drastically since the three county commissioners met with Town Council and staff members last week.

“It was real cordial but when they didn’t hear what they wanted to hear, it’s like World War III,” said Ingstad.

He said the Basaltines should bring their concerns to the courthouse in Eagle so the elected officials can talk “rather than fire off missiles at one another.”

Ingstad said the latest lobbying cannot be considered a definitive statement from the mid-Roaring Fork Valley. The tree farm site has been supported by citizens in past public hearings, he noted. Last week the majority of Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission members indicated they support building the office-community center at the tree farm.

The planning commission delayed a formal vote until later this month to let Eagle County work on improving pedestrian safety.

In addition, Ingstad said, Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens and council members endorsed Eagle County’s proposal for the tree farm just a few months ago.

“It’s hard for the decision-makers to decide what the public wants,” he said.

Stevens is leading the charge now for Willits and for a public forum to debate the issue in the Roaring Fork Valley. He co-wrote a letter that concluded, “Citizens and town officials have long requested that the commissioners make themselves more available to their Roaring Fork constituents as they make decisions about development in this area. To expect citizens to travel to Eagle in the middle of a workday is not practical.”

The county commissioners have already scheduled their next public hearing on the tree farm plan in Eagle on Feb. 27 at 5:30 p.m. Ingstad said holding one final hearing in Basalt or El Jebel to hash out the site of the building sounds good on paper, but isn’t a practical solution. There is no “definitive” meeting, he noted.

“You get a different crowd each time,” said Ingstad. “It’s always been when you bring the bulldozer over to the site, then everybody wants to get involved in the process.”

The debate has been ongoing since 1994, when Eagle and Pitkin counties teamed to acquire the 124-acre former tree nursery from the U.S. Forest Service. The counties traded about 1,300 acres of property to acquire the site behind the El Jebel Amoco station.

The counties acquired the land for preservation of open space, development of ball fields and recreational amenities, and for an office building.

Ingstad said the county commissioners may have to make the best decision, then take whatever political heat comes their way.

“They understand both sides. It’s tough,” he said.

The Town Council’s letter states that two overriding reasons favor Willits as the site to build on rather than the tree farm. First, building the community center elsewhere preserves the greatest potential for devoting the tree farm to recreational facilities. Second, the town will make land available to the county for free at Willits, which is about one-half mile upvalley from the tree farm. Infrastructure, including fiber optics, would also be available to the county for free.

County officials counter that they have already spent $1.5 million in site preparation and road improvements at the tree farm.

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