Big El Jebel development proposal gets key endorsement
The Aspen Times
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Some midvalley residents didn’t wait until Thursday’s meeting to weigh in on the Tree Farm development proposal.
If the letters already sent to Eagle County government are an accurate assessment, the proposal faces an uphill battle in the court of public opinion. The letters ran 24 against the proposal, one neutral and one in support, with conditions.
Here’s a sample of comments in the letters:
•“Let’s all send Ace Lane and all other greedy land developers a strong message: We will not sit back while you try to destroy our quality of life in the Roaring Fork Valley.” — Tom O’Keefe of El Jebel
•“As both a designer and Basalt resident I am generally in favor of the proposed development with a few caveats as follows.” One of those caveats was that the project site should be annexed into the town of Basalt. “The town of Basalt will likely be forced to service the community anyway as Eagle County is typically spread too thin in the Roaring Fork Valley.” — Nick Aceto, Basalt
•“The Ace Lane Project, as drawn up, I hope and trust is a ‘dead issue’ on arrival at your desk. We midvalley folk need this like a hole in the head. The Basalt/El Jebel corridor has fast become a nightmare in terms of congestion of vehicles and empty retail/commercial storefronts. We don’t need any more of either anytime soon.” — Brian Dillard, Basalt
•“I am deeply opposed to adding more noise, traffic and congestion.” — Karin S. Bannerot, address not available
•“We in the Roaring Fork Valley are happy with the status quo and the tax revenues it provides us. We realize that developers and those who live in Eagle would like to zap some of this income. Greed is a nasty bugger.”
— Maggie Kromer, address not available
•“The county line between Pitkin and Eagle around El Jebel is becoming very apparent. One side of the river is open space, rural residential and agriculture. The other side if becoming wall to wall development.” — Tony Popish, Eagle County
•“Our valley CAN survive without this type of massive city development. There has to be someone with backbone and courage to stand up to a development of this magnitude.” — Katie and Johan Morlind, address unavailable
Ace Lane’s development proposal for as many as 400 residences and nearly 135,000 square feet of commercial space in the El Jebel area received a recommendation for conditional approval Thursday by the Eagle County planning staff.
Lane received the first round of approval from Eagle County government in 2009 after heated community debate and widespread opposition. The project stalled during the recession. Lane is back seeking a second round of approval for his project, asking for approval for a greater number of residences and more commercial square footage.
His firm, Woody Ventures LLC, received approval for 319 residences in 2009. Now, the request is for as many as 400.
He received approval for 96,375 square feet of commercial space six years ago. Now, he is seeking approval for 134,558 square feet.
Overall, the proposal is nearly 20 percent larger than before in square footage.
The Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission’s first meeting on the larger proposal was a tame affair Thursday. Roughly 40 people showed up for a public hearing but only five spoke. Four voiced concerns; one voiced approval. Comments submitted by letter prior to the meeting were overwhelmingly against the project (see related story online at http://www.aspentimes.com).
However, the Eagle County planning staff’s endorsement provides a big boost to Lane.
A memo to the planning commission members from Eagle County Planner Scot Hunn said, “Staff believes that the proposal addresses a preponderance of applicable master plan goals, policies and strategies. Additionally, staff believes the proposal meets or can meet — if properly conditioned — all required standards and findings necessary for the approval of the preliminary plan and associated variation requests.”
The planning commission got a general glimpse at the project Thursday and will hold at least three more meetings to dig into details. The next meeting will be July 2. All future meetings will be held at 4 p.m. rather than the usual 2:30 p.m. to give the public a better chance to attend, officials said.
Traffic emerged as a top concern among people attending the hearing.
Barb Forest of El Jebel noted the midvalley already has a “metropolis” development with Willits Town Center, the western part of Basalt where Whole Foods Market is located.
“Now we’re going to have it on both sides of the street,” she said. “Our hugest issue will be traffic in this area,” Forest said.
Mary Robinson of El Jebel noted that the project generated considerable community opposition in 2009. Now, it’s almost 20 percent bigger.
“It’s frustrating because it has more of an urban feel,” she said.
Robinson also suggested the planning staff was out of touch.
“It kind of feels like the concerns of the people that live here fall on deaf ears,” she said.
Patrice Becker of Basalt voiced concern that the plan doesn’t include enough affordable housing, while Holly Buell, who didn’t give a town of residence, credited Lane with providing affordable housing and making other innovations.
The only other speaker, Annie Cooke, said the midvalley already has plenty of development to absorb.
“Basically, my issue is look at Willits,” she said. The amount of vacant commercial space suggests another big development should wait, she said.
Lane’s land-use planner, Jon Fredericks, said the Tree Farm will be a long-term development project with an estimated 20 to 26 residential units built per year and 6,700 to 8,900 square feet of commercial property developed per year.
“It’s only going to be built on market demand,” he said. “The days of ‘Build it and they will come’ are gone.”
Forty-six of the residences will be rental apartments with rent caps that conform to Eagle County rules.
“People love to live here. Why wouldn’t they?” Fredericks said. “So let’s give them an affordable place to live.”
The least expensive apartments at the Tree Farm will be $1,294 per month for a one-bedroom and $1,552 for a two-bedroom under Eagle County’s current guidelines.
The planning commission will look at the project’s conformance to the master plan for the midvalley area at the July 2 meeting. It will look at traffic July 16. Both meetings will be at 4 p.m. at the Eagle County building at Crown Mountain Park.
To hear what midvalley residents are saying about the proposal, visit http://www.aspentimes.com.
The Aspen City Council directed staff to move forward with the Burlingame early childhood education center, but decided it needs more information on the affordable housing units that are part of the schematic design at a work session Monday.