Eagle County snuffs lease of old tree farm buildings
Eagle County won’t consider allowing public use in the near future of five abandoned buildings at the Mount Sopris Tree Farm that some midvalley residents feel are a vital part of a plan to create a community park.
The commissioners aren’t convinced that the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District’s board of directors is capable of taking on responsibility for safe operations of the buildings or the liability for their use, according to County Commissioner Tom Stone.
The three county commissioners voted unanimously recently to exclude the buildings from lease negotiations with the recreation district’s board.
“They can’t force the county into leasing it,” Stone said at a meeting that attracted about 50 midvalley residents Tuesday night.
The disclosure didn’t sit well with the majority of the audience. Several speakers said they believe the five buildings are a key to the old tree farm’s development into a centerpiece of the community. A citizens group called Tree P.A.C. wants the buildings remodeled and used as places where bands can practice, seniors can meet and community theater groups can perform. Royal Laybourn, an organizer of Tree P.A.C., laid out a vision that included community gardens and greenhouses on the land around the buildings.
The new park at the tree farm cannot just feature facilities for team sports, Laybourn said. It must include something for all segments of the community since funding was approved by the public.
Incorporating a wide range of groups and activities into the tree farm is important for building a cohesive community in the midvalley, according to Laybourn.
“This proposal isn’t about buildings,” he said. “This proposal is about people.”
Laybourn and several Tree P.A.C. members said the lease with the county commissioners shouldn’t be signed unless it includes the buildings.
Although some of the five-member recreation district board acknowledged that eventual development of the buildings is important to them, the lease is out of their hands at this point. Stone stressed that the buildings will only be eligible for lease when the recreation district’s board determines uses for the buildings, gains the support of the community at large and convinces county officials the buildings can be safely operated.
The decision comes on the heels of the county’s settlement of a lawsuit with the parents of a boy killed at the tree farm. The county paid Steve and Cathy Close $100,000 and agreed to acknowledge some responsibility for the death of 10-year-old Jamie Close in June 2001.
Jamie and some friends were playing in a ramshackle skateboard park in one of the tree farm buildings when a heavy steel beam fell on the boy. Jamie died instantly when the bar crushed his skull.
The Closes filed a lawsuit alleging that the conditions were unsafe at the skatepark and that there wasn’t any adult supervision. The county’s insurance company wanted to fight the suit in court, but the county commissioners decided to settle the case.
Stone extended his sympathies to the Closes at the public meeting Tuesday night.
“I will do everything in my power to make sure that we have safe and supervised facilities,” he said.
“Thank you. That’s all we ever asked,” responded Cathy Close. She stressed that her family doesn’t want another tragedy to occur because of inadequate supervision at the tree farm.
“My husband and I will do everything in our power to prevent use of those facilities,” said Cathy Close.
Steve Close later clarified that the buildings could serve a beneficial use, as long as conditions were safe and uses were supervised.
Stone predicted that the buildings will eventually be developed by the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District, but not as fast as Tree P.A.C. might prefer.
Laybourn said the commissioners’ decision was unacceptable. The “tribes,” or different constituencies, of the Roaring Fork Valley have come together with a plan, he said, but the commissioners located 50 miles away in Eagle are making the decisions.
“We think we know what you need – that’s what you just heard,” Laybourn said of the county’s position.
Audience members urged the recreation district board to keep pressing for a lease on the tree farm buildings. They vowed to help the board come up with a specific plan for the buildings.
Meanwhile, the district board will continue to work on a plan for adding soccer fields, baseball fields, tennis and basketball courts and playgrounds in the land that is leased.
The tree farm buildings remain off limits. They are closed and posted with no trespassing signs.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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