Developer Lane defends his big proposal in El Jebel
After months of taking a pounding in the public arena, developer Ace Lane finally spoke at a public hearing Thursday and shared his vision for the proposed Tree Farm development.
A key member of Lane’s team, Chief Financial Officer Dave Marrs, also spoke, and chastised critics of the project as being older homeowners who are established in the Roaring Fork Valley and want to slam the door on any additional development. Marrs also criticized the Basalt town government for trying to preserve a “monopoly” of commercial space in the midvalley.
Lane and Marrs are fighting to win approval for as many as 400 residences and about 135,000 square feet of commercial space on Lane’s property across Highway 82 from Whole Foods. The proposal was on the shelf during the recession, but Lane asked Eagle County government to resume the review in June 2014.
During countless hearings before the Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission, the majority of speakers have demanded denial of the project. Most of the critics contend it will add to traffic congestion and growth-related ills. Some speakers have claimed Lane is being “greedy.”
Lane, who acknowledges he takes comments personally, has avoided most meetings. But he started Thursday’s planning commission meeting by asking to address the board.
He explained that he loves the property where he lives with his sons.
“Why would a guy want to share my front yard with 600 neighbors?” he asked.
He answered by saying the world population of 7.2 billion is continuing to grow and humankind will inevitably consume more energy. He suggested that if development isn’t done right, the planet will cook.
“We need a new model,” Lane said. His interest is to build a project that is as environmentally friendly as possible and to share the model. An off-site solar farm will power a significant portion of the project. The buildings’ energy efficiency will far exceed the Eagle County building code. Lane will plant thousands of trees around the development. Most residences will be a short distance from an existing bus station on Highway 82, which Lane is helping fund. The project will be carbon-negative and oxygen-positive, he said, and it will “also be beautiful.”
His team has made all those points before, but always in the sterile confines of the land-use review process. Lane added passion. He claimed the Tree Farm would prevent the sprawl that plagues the Roaring Fork Valley and spread development in the rural areas off Highway 82.
“If you guys don’t want any other development here, don’t want any other people here, shut the whole thing down,” Lane told the planning commission.
He defiantly said he doesn’t think 400 residences is enough. Answering criticism that the project doesn’t provide enough affordable housing — 45 units out of 400 — Lane claimed the residences without deed restrictions will be “attainable.”
Marrs said the condominiums and lofts that will dominate the housing inventory will be sold for between $400,000 and $500,000. However, there is nothing that will hold Lane and his Woody Ventures LLC to the promise.
Marrs made a more concrete vow regarding retail space. He said Woody Ventures LLC would agree not to make any single space larger than 45,000 square feet.
“This is primarily to address the fear factor — from Basalt and at-large,” he said. Limiting the size of any single space is intended to relieve fears that the Tree Farm will entice Whole Foods and its sales tax revenue from across the highway in the town of Basalt.
A hotel, which is a different use from retail, could exceed 45,000 square feet.
Planning commission Chairwoman Temple Glassier told Lane she appreciated that he decided to participate in a meeting and speak about his vision. However, some members of an audience of about 50 people were unfazed by Lane’s comments. About 18 people spoke. Nine were against the project, four supported it and five were neutral.
Ellie Taylor of Emma said the project is “not appropriate for the valley.”
“I think the Willits development shows us what big development does,” she said, labeling it an “eyesore.”
Looking at Lane and his team, Taylor said, “This development that you guys are doing is an absolute ‘no.’” She asked Eagle County to place a moratorium on approvals until Willits’ effects on the valley are known.
Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon credited Lane with placing a cap on retail space, but he asked him to go further and pledge that the 45,000 square feet space would not be grocery-related. The Whole Foods at Willits is 35,000 square feet, he said. The Tree Farm could entice its relocation by offering a larger space with better highway access.
Scanlon said Basalt wants Lane to apply for annexation of his property into the town of Basalt.
Former Pitkin County Commissioner Joe Edwards, an early adopter of growth control in the county and now a midvalley resident, wasn’t impressed by Lane’s claim that housing in the Tree Farm would be attainable. He noted that the earlier version of the project, approved by the county commissioners prior to the recession, included 169 deed-restricted units for workers. That’s dwindled to 45 units.
However, the affordable housing appealed to another audience member.
Jonathan Delk, a self-described millennial, said he is struggling to stay in the Roaring Fork Valley with his wife, a valley native. Affordable housing is the challenge. The Tree Farm represents opportunity, he said.
After a lengthy hearing, the planning commission postponed deliberations until Nov. 5. An advisory vote is likely that day. The commission advises the Eagle County Commissioners on land-use issues in the Eagle County portion of the valley.
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