El Jebel development seeks rezoning approval from Eagle County
A site tour and preliminary sketch plan for a proposed residential development of 135 units in El Jebel was presented to the Eagle County Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday. Developers received first-round approval of the project, called The Fields, back in Dec. 2016, and are now applying for a zone change for the property from rural residential to residential multi-family.
The project has faced steady opposition from community members due to concerns about traffic increases and overtaxing of resources in the area, and written public comment from this summer has many appealing to commissioners to deny the rezoning on these grounds.
In response to feedback from the county and the public on the 2016 sketch plan, the developers have updated the plan to include a less dense building layout that uses a clustering model to increase open space, 27 affordable housing units price-capped at 80-100% area median income and a new trail system.
Traffic studies made up a significant chunk of the developers’ presentation as they aim to alleviate the primary community concern about traffic danger and congestion. The Fields property is located off of Valley Road, which runs just south of Highway 82.
The traffic study presented by the developers determined that the full capacity of Valley Road is 9,300 vehicles per day. In a model that used tracking of current traffic conditions and estimations of traffic growth by the year 2045, the generated traffic from The Fields development — estimated at eight vehicle trips per household — was determined to only make up 7% of this capacity. Combined with background traffic unrelated to development, the road would still only be operating at 30% capacity.
The developers also presented a concept design for a restructured intersection at the meeting point of El Jebel and Valley Road for which they would cover up to 24% of the cost, or $408,000. The intersection would include an RFTA park and ride and increase queue capacity to avoid traffic buildup at the light.
Affordable housing opportunity
While traffic concerns represent one of the biggest drawbacks of the project, the aspect that is generating support from the community is the addition of 27 affordable housing units. There will be studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units available for rent at 80-100% AMI and for sale via lottery at 120-140% AMI.
The developers have already connected with two local employers, the Roaring Fork Fire Department and Aspen Music School, for whom several units will be earmarked to meet the housing needs of their employees. They are also open to converting additional market-rate units into affordable housing units through the Good Deeds buy-down program.
The developers noted that there are currently zero price-capped affordable housing units in the Roaring Fork Valley, and no other developers in the area are offering affordable housing solutions.
The Eagle County staff evaluation of the zoning request and 1041 permit recommended both for approval, as the developers have met all of the required conditions. While the official recommendation is in the affirmative, county commissioners expressed hesitancy about approval, claiming that the public benefit of the development is not high enough to justify the rezoning.
The proposal highlights the affordable housing units, public trail to and from Crown Mountain Park and improved intersection and pedestrian zones as covering the public benefit requirements, but Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney said that she found the file “lacking” when it came to public benefit, a sentiment with which Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry agreed.
“I’m really struggling, as commissioner McQueeney is, with the public benefit here,” Chandler-Henry said. “There are a lot of impacts to this Roaring Fork, El Jebel area of Eagle County by this development: 135 new housing units, 27 of those could potentially hold workers in this area, but 108 are going to, perhaps, price out workers, so we are adding many more people who need services, who will be using the roads, who will be causing an impact here. I’m not seeing the public benefit.”
The next hearing for The Fields development will take place in the Mount Sopris room in El Jebel on Friday, Aug. 26, and will include time for public comment.