Basalt planners: tree farm is not the place for office space
Some Basalt officials are making a last-ditch attempt to prevent what they see as the spread of suburbia into the Mount Sopris Tree Farm.The Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission is urging Eagle County to develop ball fields but drop plans for a government office and community center.”The commissioners wished to restate their position that the site should not be compromised by office complex development,” reads a Jan. 23 letter from the planning commission to Eagle County government.”The reality of a quality recreational facility along with preservation of environmentally sensitive areas and open space on this site will be a great asset to the community and benefit to the quality of life in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County,” the letter added.The P&Z claims the tree farm site is inappropriate for an office because it falls outside of what Basalt considers its urban growth boundary, the letter explains. That boundary marks the outer limit of where higher-density, urban-style development should go.While the Planning Commission’s comments may be embarrassing for Eagle County, they don’t carry any real weight. The Basalt P&Z is merely a referral agency on the issue. Its direction isn’t binding for Eagle County.Use of the former tree farm has been debated since 1994, when Eagle and Pitkin counties teamed to acquire the 125 acres of mostly irrigated pasture land in a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service. The tree farm is located between the El Jebel Amoco station and the Roaring Fork River.Some people want to keep the land free from development. Others see it as the best place to build desperately needed recreational facilities, such as ball and soccer fields.Eagle County envisions a five-acre corner of the property as a place for a centralized office in the Roaring Fork Valley. It is reviewing its own application to build a 15,000-square-foot structure in the northeastern corner of the tree farm, closest to the main El Jebel stoplight.The proposal also includes two ball fields, two soccer fields, pedestrian trails, picnic areas and playground equipment.A two-story office building would house county departments that are currently scattered throughout the midvalley. The county has granted itself the first round of approval for the building. The plan for the office building and recreational facilities goes back before the Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission for the second round of review on Thursday, Feb. 8, and before the county commissioners later that month.Those meetings will be the last chance the public has to weigh in on the decision.The Basalt Planning Commission didn’t suggest an alternative site to the tree farm for Eagle County’s office building. However, the developers of an El Jebel-area project called Willits have offered to provide land for the facility.Basalt is preparing final approval for about 600,000 square feet of mostly commercial space in the Willits core. Developer Michael Lipkin has said he would like the Eagle County office building as an anchor tenant.Some Basalt officials, such as Town Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt, have endorsed Willits as the best office site based on good land-use planning.The tree farm proposal will be reviewed by the Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission during a meeting that starts at 2:30 p.m., Feb. 8, in Town Hall.
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