County delays church decision
Pitkin County commissioners have decided to visit the former ranch in Emma where a church would like to build its new home.The congregation of Grace Church has purchased 18 acres in the rural community near Basalt for their worship building, an accessory building for offices and a caretaker dwelling unit. The land is zoned AFR-10, which permits one development on 10 acres and is primarily a residential zone. Churches can be built in the zone after going through a special review process and approval from commissioners.At their Wednesday meeting, commissioners listened to more than three hours of debate from the church’s parishioners and neighbors of the proposed development who vehemently disagree over whether the church complex belongs in the rural community. Instead of making a final decision, commissioners chose to schedule a site visit on May 11.The Pitkin County planner’s office has recommended the commissioners deny the project, saying the proposal doesn’t meet the criteria for a special review “in this location due to the size and operating characteristics being out of harmony with the surrounding area.”The land in question is the former Jack Gredig ranch in Emma, south of Highway 82 and just downvalley from the old Emma School. The church, formerly known as the Basalt Bible Church, has been in the midvalley for 28 years.Searching for a new site, the church sold its property on Highway 82 near El Jebel to the Alpine Christian Fellowship congregation and has been meeting at the Eagle County office and community center on Sundays. The project has already been panned by the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission last summer, when it indicated the plans might be an urban-style development outside the town’s urban growth boundary.Twenty-nine people stood up to speak at Wednesday’s public hearing – 19 who were residents of the Emma area who spoke against increased development in their neighborhood. Many of them noted they are not against a church development specifically but that they’re against any development that could increase traffic, impact views or threaten the rural character of the neighborhood.Emma resident Liz Conners said she wouldn’t be opposed to a home on the land but she doesn’t want “166 neighbors on that 10-acre piece of land.””That density is more that I ever dreamed of,” she said. “This is more of an urban, commercial use that doesn’t feel residential to me whatsoever.”Residents worried about a lighted parking lot the development would include and the already-sticky traffic situation at the intersection of Emma Road and Highway 82. They also said the rural nature of their neighborhood is the reason many of them live there, and they don’t want to see it threatened.”This is like the gatekeeper property to Emma – it would be like putting a church on the Marolt open space property, which is the gateway to Aspen,” said Emma resident Doug Sheffer.Members of the church, like Glenwood Springs resident Don Helmich, said the congregation “is not interested in this development for monetary gain. The church wishes to bless this area and to service this area. This is a large piece of land and the applicant is asking to put an aesthetic, well-designed, tasteful structure on it that would have minimal impact.”Wayne Starr, the developer working with the congregation, emphasized that the development would be designed to resemble ranch-style structures like a barn and a ranch house. The project has also been downsized once, from 15,000 square feet for the entire project to 12,800 square feet. The church has 130 members and plans a sanctuary with the seating capacity for 166.He also said use of the property will be concentrated to Sunday mornings – non-peak hours for traffic.”If I was a newcomer to Emma I’d be thrilled to have a church nearby,” said church member Linda Nelson. “The schools and churches are the foundation of our country. Grace Church will fill that need.”Before the meeting ended, Commissioner Dorothea Farris noted to the audience that their decision is not one based on religion, but based on land use regulations.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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