Eagle, Pitkin commissioners to meet – and maybe clash
September 8, 2009
ASPEN – Eagle County is seeking federal funding for an Interstate 70 interchange project to serve its airport, but its county commissioners may have a hard time convincing some Pitkin County commissioners to back the request.
Commissioners from the two counties are scheduled to meet Monday at 2 p.m. in the El Jebel Community Center, and several topics are likely to receive discussion.
Pitkin County commissioners prepped Tuesday in Aspen for the joint session, and at least one commissioner said he’s not anxious to support the interchange project, given Eagle County’s recent conceptual approval of Ace Lane’s controversial Tree Farm project in El Jebel.
Lane wants to build 319 residences and 96,000 square feet of commercial space across Highway 82 from the Willits Town Center. Eagle County commissioners recently gave the project “sketch plan approval” – the first of three approvals needed by the development.
Foes have voiced concerns about the project’s impacts on midvalley traffic and school crowding, among other issues. Those impacts will fall on Pitkin County’s doorstep, said Commissioner Michael Owsley.
“If somebody drops a bag of excrement on your doorstep, you don’t pat them on the back and say ‘Thank you very much,'” he said.
Recommended Stories For You
Owsley said Eagle County will have to convince him to support the $70 million request for the airport interchange, which would provide a direct connection between I-70 and the Eagle County Airport. Currently travelers exit I-70 at either Eagle or Gypsum and take Highway 6 to the airport.
“I would have to be persuaded by Eagle County in some way,” Owsley said. “I wouldn’t come out and say I support it, just given the politics of it.”
The interchange project does benefit Aspen and Pitkin County in that visitors and locals make use of the Eagle County Airport, noted Commissioner George Newman.
“I use the Eagle County Airport,” he said.
Newman suggested Pitkin County commissioners stress the need for affordable housing in the lower income brackets at Lane’s development and housing for all of the commercial space that is envisioned there. Of the 319 residences, 169 units or 53 percent are proposed as affordable housing.
Commissioner Jack Hatfield said Lane’s Tree Farm project gives him “heartburn,” but he’s willing to look at the broader issues.
“It’s going to ruin the midvalley,” he added, noting the traffic backups now at El Jebel’s main intersection.
“You can’t even get through that light at busy times,” Hatfield said.
Commissioners also expressed hope that the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board will make demands of the project when developers seek RFTA’s input on serving the Tree Farm rather than, as Owsley put it, “be a victim to poor land-use planning.”
A letter of support for the interchange funding has already been drafted for the Pitkin County commissioners to consider. It indicates 20 percent of commercial passengers passing through the airport are bound for Pitkin County. The letter also notes the project has been identified as the top priority in the state Transportation Planning Region that includes Pitkin County. Pitkin County has no project that could compete for the funds, said County Manager Hilary Fletcher.
Also on Monday, Pitkin County commissioners said they want to talk about securing office space at another tree farm – the former U.S. Forest Service tree farm located on the opposite side of Highway 82 in El Jebel. The property, where Crown Mountain Park and the Eagle County Community Center are now located, was acquired from the Forest Service. Pitkin County turned over a number of mining claims to the feds as its part of the deal.
Pitkin County satellite offices were discussed as part of the plan for the property, but nothing was formalized on the plat, Fletcher said.
“There were lots of conversations. Everyone remembers the conversations,” she said.
With both Eagle and Pitkin County taking proposed special districts to fund energy projects to their voters in November, that, too, is slated for discussion. Someone suggested commissioners broach that non-controversial topic first.
“Before we piss them off, you mean?” said Commissioner Patti Clapper.