County slows up tree-farm planning |

County slows up tree-farm planning

Eagle County officials “put the brakes” on the Mount Sopris Tree Farm planning process Thursday to let midvalley residents hash out a vision for the future and how to get there.

“The bottom line is we’re slowing things down to try to find out what citizens want,” said County Administrator Jack Ingstad. “We hope that everybody with an interest is willing to show up [at a Dec. 8 open house].”

Ingstad indicated virtually all issues are back on the table. Citizens can lobby the county on everything from doing nothing with the 128-acre site to tweaking proposals for a government office building and recreational facilities, he said.

The county hasn’t ruled out helping fund recreational facilities, according to Ingstad. However, because of a county budget freeze, nothing is likely to be built – recreational facilities or offices – in 2000.

County officials will also seek advice on the process they should use for any potential proposal.

The key to the debate, Ingstad stressed, is that midvalley residents must get involved with the process now.

An open house to discuss tree-farm issues was sparsely attended on Oct. 30, but critics said that was because it was held on an Indian summer Saturday afternoon.

The next open house will be held Wednesday, Dec. 8, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Blue Lake Community Center.

The ongoing debate over the tree farm’s fate heated up during the first half of November. Basalt Town Council members and at least one member of a citizens task force convened by the county claimed county officials were trying to “fast track” the review process for their office building and were paying little attention to needs for recreational facilities.

County officials had intended to apply in their own review process for a special-use permit to build a government office building. The recreation plan was slated to go through a more detailed process called a Planned Unit Development.

Ingstad denied that the county was trying to fast track the office building. He said his staff proposed that process because that’s what they thought residents wanted. Now, Ingstad acknowledged, he and his staff are hearing different things from different people.

Therefore, they are slowing down the process to give everyone a chance to speak up.

The tree-farm property, located south of the El Jebel Amoco, was acquired in the mid-1990s by Eagle and Pitkin counties in a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service.

The counties wanted the land to preserve open space and to serve it as a site for a government office building. Eagle County has proposed a $2.8 million building of between 15,000 and 20,000 square feet.

Officials say a satellite office is needed to serve the Roaring Fork Valley. Currently the county rents a variety of spaces in El Jebel and Basalt for offices.

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