Eagle County commissioners grant first-round approval for El Jebel development

Opponents of The Fields application in the El Jebel area posted this sign to rally people to a meeting Thursday. About 50 people attended but they couldn't sway the Eagle County commissioners.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

The Eagle County commissioners granted first-round approval Thursday to a 110-unit development application in the El Jebel area despite widespread opposition.

The commissioners voted 3-0 to grant sketch plan approval for The Fields, a project sandwiched between Highway 82 and Valley Road, across the highway from the entrance to Blue Lake.

It’s the first of three approvals needed, though the final step is highly technical in nature.

The project had three strikes against it by the time it reached the commissioners.

The Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission advised the commissioners in December to deny the project. The town of Basalt urged denial because the development is proposed outside of its urban growth boundary.

Twelve out of 16 midvalley residents who spoke at a hearing Thursday afternoon in El Jebel criticized the density of the project, the traffic it will generate and the perceived incompatibility with the neighborhood. People who couldn’t attend the hearing submitted additional letters of opposition.

Density, traffic concerns

Pam Wood of neighboring Summit Vista noted that her subdivision has 50 homes on 21 acres. The Fields Development Group LLC is proposing between 97 and 110 residences on 19.39 acres. The project’s density should be reduced, she said.

Bruce Wood contended the development team wasn’t being a good neighbor. People voiced concerns about traffic and density when the project was first reviewed by the commissioners in April. The developers responded by increasing the density from 98 units to as many as 110, he said.

“I hope you will listen to the community on this side of Eagle County, because we’re speaking loud and clear,” Wood said.

The commissioners responded that the project complied with the legal criteria that dictate the sketch-plan review. The criteria include compliance with the Midvalley Master Plan and compliance with land-use regulations.

“It meets enough conformance standards that I’d vote yes,” Commissioner Jill Ryan said during deliberations.

Master plan vs. sentiment

Ryan said the master plan approved for the middle Roaring Fork Valley in 2013 designated The Fields site as appropriate for three to seven residential units per acre. The developer applied for 5.6 units per acre.

She said there seems to be a “disconnect” between the master plan and the community sentiment. Nevertheless, she said, the commissioners must rely on the master plan effort that was open for participation by the public.

“Legally it’s hard for us just to change things,” she said.

One point of contention between the commissioners and the residents was the traffic mitigation effort. The developer is shelling out $1 million to improve the intersection of Valley Road and Highway 82 (the main intersection at El Jebel), $200,000 for lighting and other improvements at the intersection of Highway 82 with Valley Road on the south and J.W. Drive on the north, and $500,000 in additional traffic mitigation fees paid to Eagle County for use in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Despite those contributions, numerous speakers said the additional traffic from The Fields would overwhelm Valley Road, an old ranching route that now handles suburban traffic levels.

Eagle County Engineer Eva Wilson said The Fields would generate an estimated 787 vehicular trips daily. Valley Road already handles about 1,300 daily trips. The increase will still keep traffic within the road’s design standards, she said, contrary to claims of residents along the road.

The $1 million in improvements to the main El Jebel intersection won’t improve the level of service above a level “F,” according to Wilson, but the project will be mitigating the traffic is generates.

That chalked up points with Ryan. “You’re not making it worse,” she said.

Ryan also credited the project with meeting Eagle County’s high threshold of 25 percent deed restricted affordable housing. That means 24 to 27 units will be sold below market rates.

Keith Ehlers, the development team’s land-use consultant, said the other residences would be “attainable” at prices between $400,000 and $600,000. Audience members countered they will be sold for whatever the market will bear.

However, the minority of audience members who supported the project credited it with providing much-needed affordable housing.

Yes, but ….

The first-round approval came with a subtle warning from Commissioners Jeanne McQueeney and Kathy Chandler-Henry. They noted that the second-round review, technically called preliminary plan, must come with a request to upzone the property to allow the density the developer seeks.

Chandler-Henry said increasing the zoning of land depends heavily on the project providing a community benefit. The Fields doesn’t provide benefits such as child care or an improvement in traffic, she noted.

“I’m feeling like there is a big risk” for the developer in the next round of review without some changes, she said.

McQueeney seconded that notion.

“There’s some missing pieces for me, for this next phase,” she said.

The next round of review, which requires the developer to provide significantly more detail, isn’t determined yet.


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