Citizens protest plans for tree farm
A massive citizens’ lobbying effort Friday night failed to convince midvalley planning officials to move an Eagle County office building off the Mount Sopris Tree Farm.
The Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission tabled the proposal for the 15,000-square-foot building, but not for the reason opponents sought.
The planning commission wanted to give Eagle County government two more weeks to address technical aspects of the plan. The majority of planning commission members expressed support for the office building-community center and recreational facilities at the tree farm.
Planning commissioner Bob Schultz said midvalley residents will someday look at the amenities at the tree farm as a “treasure.”
“This is a wonderful plan,” said Schultz. “This is going to be a wonderful park.”
Midvalley residents showed up in force to get the office building moved from the 125-acre tree farm site south of the El Jebel Amoco station. The recreational facilities weren’t an issue.
About 40 residents showed up, and 24 spoke against placing the office building there, as did representatives of the Basalt town government. In addition, a petition signed by roughly 100 residents in just three hours sought further hearings on whether the office building should be at the tree farm or Willits, a massive project approved by Basalt a half-mile up the road.
The town of Basalt, which received 1.5 acres from the developers of Willits, has offered free land for the government building. About $500,000 in infrastructure costs would also be provided for free.
“A closer look at other alternatives is imperative,” said Laurie Gish-Soliday, who lives in the tree farm neighborhood and circulated the petition.
She implored the planning commission, whose members are from the Roaring Fork Valley, to help citizens deliver their message to the county commissioners in Eagle.
“People here feel bullied, they feel pushed and they feel defeated,” Gish-Soliday said.
Midvalley environmentalist Richard Compton said “99 percent” of the tree farm plan was “right,” but the 1 percent that is wrong is bothering him enough to speak out. The office building-community center is inappropriately located, he said.
Steve Napolitano said he moved from Florida to the midvalley to escape rampant development, so he opposed the government facility in the tree farm.
“If you didn’t have an alternative I could see what you’re wanting to do, but you do have an alternative,” he said.
Only one audience member, Bonnie Williams, voiced support for the tree farm government building. Eagle County needs to consolidate its services at one site, she said.
“I feel the tree farm is a perfect location,” Williams said.
After the outpouring of opposition to the building, John Swanson closed public comments by noting, “The local folk have spoken. Please listen.”
The arguments failed to sway three of the five planning commission members.
“I don’t have a lot of heartburn about the location of this building,” said commission chairman Gary Ross.
He noted that 15,000 square feet were proposed in an empty field at the tree farm while more than 400,000 square feet was approved by Basalt in an empty field at Willits.
“Which one’s more urban-sprawl-oriented?” Ross asked.
Planning commissioner Kim Johnson also expressed no concerns with the site. “It’s not a huge building,” said Johnson.
Schultz said he was initially skeptical of the tree farm site for the government building, but now supports it as a better alternative than Willits for a variety of reasons. Building at the tree farm, he noted, may speed development of much-needed recreational facilities.
Planning commissioners Temple Glassier and Mary Holley stated preferences for exploring Willits.
The board delayed a formal vote, but not because of the site dispute. They want Eagle County staff and consultants to study a variety of issues in greater detail and bring back the information on Feb. 22.
The most critical issues were pedestrian safety while crossing Valley Road to the tree farm site and orientation of ball and soccer fields.
Some opponents of the government building saw the delay as an opportunity to lobby the county commissioners to change the location of the building – something two commissioners have vowed they won’t do.
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