Basalt will ask Eagle County to deny Tree Farm project in El Jebel

This site plan for the Tree Farm project shows how development would be focused between Highway 82 and an existing water ski lake in El Jebel. 82 percent of the residences would be within 1/4 mile of the Willits bus stop.
Woody Ventures |

The Basalt Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to urge Eagle County to deny the Tree Farm project in El Jebel despite significant revisions to the proposal.

Council members expressed concerns about traffic and other impacts of the project as well as the potential for a project outside of the town’s boundaries to compete against projects within the town.

The council wants the South Side development and Willits Town Center, both located within the town, to be built out to completion before Eagle County approves such a large development.

“We already have a traffic problem and it’s going to get worse,” said Basalt Councilman Auden Schendler.

Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said the town has several major concerns about the Tree Farm but agreed that traffic and transit is a key one. A traffic study suggested the “green time” at a traffic signal at Highway 82 and the entrance to the Tree Farm will have to be reduced to accommodate the additional traffic emerging from the new development. That means traffic on Highway 82 would face delays.

“We’re going to have a traffic nightmare there,” Tennenbaum said.

Master plan criticized

Several council members were critical of a Mid Valley Area Master Plan approved by Eagle County in 2013 after numerous hearings held by the Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission in El Jebel. That guiding document favors development along the Highway 82 corridor.

Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer said she didn’t believe many midvalley residents participated in the process that led to the plan. When individual projects come up for review, midvalley residents consistently oppose the developments, she noted.

“It seems like the community is railing against it,” Schwoerer said of the master plan.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said much of the work on the master plan was performed during the recession and recovery, when people had their minds on other issues. Growth wasn’t a big concern at the time, she said.

Eagle County commissioners won’t meet with Basalt officials to discuss a specific proposal, she noted, but the council could try to engage them on development issues in general. The council unanimously supported pursuing that conversation.

Basalt opposes hotel

The Tree Farm is a project proposed on the north side of Highway 82, across from Whole Foods Market. Landowner Ace Lane and his company, Woody Ventures LLC, reduced the project after the Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission recommended denial in November 2015.

The number of residences was reduced from 400 to 340. There would be 43 deed-restricted units along with an estimated 180 apartments and 160 loft-condominiums. The size of the free-market units will be kept small to keep prices affordable. The average size will be 1,117 square feet, according to the development team.

Most of the residences will be between Highway 82 and Kodiak Lake, an existing private water-ski facility. Townhouses that were proposed north of the water ski lake were eliminated. The development team said roughly 80 percent of the residences are within a quarter mile of a major bus stop.

The total square footage of the project was reduced from 585,474 to 514,193 square feet. The commercial square footage was capped at 134,558 square feet. The prior plan didn’t identify that cap.

The plan also caps the largest, single-use retail space at 30,000 square feet to alleviate fears that Lane will try to entice the El Jebel City Market to move out of Basalt or attract a new grocery to compete with the Basalt markets.

The project includes a proposal for a 60,000-square-foot, 100-room hotel.

While the council will urge denial of the project, they will urge the Eagle County commissioners to place numerous conditions on the project if they approve it.

Some of the conditions include capping the commercial floor area at 40,000 square feet and a limit of 15,000 square feet on an individual tenant. The town also wants the hotel eliminated. The town planning staff’s position was that a hotel at the Tree Farm could interfere with potential efforts to attract a hotel to downtown Basalt.

The Eagle County commissioners haven’t scheduled a hearing yet on the Tree Farm. Basalt’s position is called a referral comment. The commissioners have no obligation to follow it.