Distillery approved for former lumberyard near Basalt
Ohio doctor plans to make vodka, gin and whiskey on 8-acre site, which will not be open to public
Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday approved a distillery and three employee housing units for the site of a former lumberyard near Basalt.
Board members voted 3-1 for the project, with Commissioner Steve Child casting the lone dissenting vote. Commissioner Greg Poschman did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.
“This is surrounded by residential and agricultural land and, to me, it just is not appropriate to have a commercial enterprise there,” Child said before voting against the distillery. “It really is an awesome project, … but it should be built in another location.”
The Emma Fields Distillery — which will include eight buildings — will be constructed on an eight-acre site located 3 miles south of Basalt on Highway 82 and is accessible via Hoaglund Ranch Road, according to the development application. Between 1966 and 1989, High Country Lumber and Boise Cascade operated a lumberyard on the parcel.
Matt Patel, an Ohio doctor who owns property in the area, plans to use grain and other ingredients grown on the site and from other area farms to produce the distilled spirits, according to the application. The site will not be open to the public once completed.
“There will be no tasting rooms, distillery tours or a bar/restaurant,” the application states. “It will not be available for rent for outside groups and no retail sales whatsoever – either product or related merchandise. The facility is for production only.”
Existing buildings on the site — including a hay barn, garage, shop and office/storage space with a total of 16,500 square feet — will be torn down. In their place, Patel plans to build a 5,000-square-foot distillery building, a 4,000-square-foot warehouse, a 3,000-square-foot administration building, a grain silo, an agriculture shed and three affordable housing units for distillery employees or other county employees, according to discussions Wednesday and the development application.
Initially, Patel and Aspen planner Chris Bendon proposed two housing units on the site, but Commissioner Patti Clapper asked for a third unit at a hearing on the application earlier this month that Patel later agreed to build. Two of the units currently are designed at about 1,000 square feet each with the third slightly larger, though those specifications could change, Bendon said Wednesday.
The new buildings will have a total of about 16,000 square feet, Bendon said, and will be constructed on the Highway 82 side of the property away from the residential neighborhood. In addition, Patel plans to incorporate environmentally friendly technology such as solar panels into the buildings, according to the application.
Marty Treadway, program director at the Community Office for Resource Efficiency in Aspen, said in a letter of support that the energy-related aspects of the design align “very well with Pitkin County’s climate goals.”
“This project endeavors to become one of the lowest carbon intensive distilleries in the country, and CORE is pleased to offer its support of this visionary project,” Treadway wrote in the letter.
Rick Lofaro, executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, also wrote a letter saying he’d reviewed the project and called it “progressive and water smart.”
“I am comfortable with the amount of water use from the well as well as the return strategy and water quality returning to the (Roaring Fork) river,” Lofaro said in the letter. “During the summer months the direct discharge to the river may be a net positive for the health of the river.”
Neighbors of the nearby approximately 17-home residential area, however, were not as keen on the project.
“My wife and I live right up against the property on the Holland Hills side with our two kids,” said Mark Sculco in a letter to commissioners. “We are still very opposed to having an alcohol distillery anywhere near our property. This is a terrible spot to put this.”
Sculco said he was concerned with water use, odor, traffic, appearance of the buildings on the site and possible devaluation of nearby properties.
The board of the Holland Hills Metropolitan District also wrote a letter expressing concerns about the distillery project.
Patel, 50, said Wednesday he’s building a home in the Old Snowmass area and plans to move from Ohio to the Roaring Fork Valley to begin developing the distillery site in the near future.
“We want to move forward on this immediately,” he said by phone. “We’re anxious to get started right away.”
Patel said he plans to produce vodka, gin and whiskey at the distillery, though he wants to grow food for valley residents on the 4 acres of the site that will be irrigated as agricultural land.
An avid skier, climber and cyclist, Patel said he’s been vacationing in the Aspen area since college and owned the property in Old Snowmass since 2016. He said that when he saw the Basalt site of the future distillery, he wanted to create something environmentally friendly that echoed historical uses.
“We wanted to create a project that could speak to the history of the valley through the decades,” Patel said. “With more development, more and more of the story of Aspen is lost.”
After working on the project for two years, he said he admired and appreciated the concern for the preservation of the valley expressed by both residents and Pitkin County government.
“We were thrilled” about Wednesday’s approval, Patel said. “Hopefully we will advance a project everybody looks back at and is proud of.”
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Three Aspen-area home sales last week for a combined $99 million punctuated a trend this year where ultra-high-end properties are fetching premium prices in Pitkin County’s tight residential market.