El Jebel project receives vital first approval | AspenTimes.com

El Jebel project receives vital first approval

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

EL JEBEL ” An El Jebel development proposal with 319 residences and 96,375 square feet of commercial space received a favorable review Thursday from a midvalley planning commission.

The Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission voted 4-1 to advise the Eagle County commissioners to give initial approval to developer Ace Lane’s Tree Farm project.

“I’m pleased to see somebody continue with development in our community,” said planning commission member Kelly McKenney.

She said it would be easy for developers to just “bury their heads in the sand” because of the tough economic conditions.

Planning commissioner Temple Glassier voted against the project. She voiced concerns about the traffic the project would generate and questioned if the developer’s intent to get people out of their vehicles in a “transit-oriented development” would be successful. After the meeting, Glassier said she felt the project was too big and too dense for unincorporated Eagle County.

Lane’s property is where the private ski lake is located, across Highway 82 from the Willits Town Center.

Planning commission members Kim Bock, Jay Leavitt and Helen Yanaki voted with McKenney in favor of the project. The application will be reviewed by the Eagle County commissioners. The planning commission vote was just advisory, and projects must earn three rounds of approvals.

For Lane, the initial approval was a long time in coming. The planning commission in October 2006 rejected an earlier version of his project. Lane pulled the proposal rather than risk a “no” vote from the county commissioners that year. He reworked the plan and resubmitted it last year.

Lane’s team touted the project as setting a new standard for environmentally friendly development in the Roaring Fork Valley. A solar electric system and micro-hydro projects will offset a significant portion of the power consumption of the 319 residences. The homes would be much more energy efficient than average U.S. homes, according to Paul Spencer, president of Bonsai Communities, a development company affiliated with Lane.

The commercial space would feature some mixed-use areas where business owners such as craftsmen could live above their work spaces. In response to a question, Lane’s land-use planner, Jon Fredericks, said “there is no intent to take Whole Foods” from the Willits Town Center, across the highway. The Willits developer’s construction of the Whole Foods Market building stalled last Labor Day, a victim of the credit crunch.

One of the biggest selling points of the Tree Farm was its affordable housing component. The project would have 169 deed-restricted affordable housing units, or 53 percent of the total residences. “It’s built for us locals,” Fredericks said.

Critics countered that the project has too many impacts on locals. “This is a big project. It’s almost the size of Elk Run in Basalt,” said Ken Ransford, who has consistently urged the planning commission to approve a smaller project on Lane’s property. Ransford said the cumulative impacts of the Tree Farm, the adjacent Shadowrock townhouse project and Willits would be too great for the midvalley to absorb.

Lane’s traffic engineering consultant acknowledged that the Willits Lane intersection with Highway 82 would operate at a “Level of Service E” at the busiest times. That means it would be the second worst level of service, with delays of greater than 80 seconds to proceed through the intersection.

“Level of Service E is typically acceptable in most communities,” said Bill Fox of Fox Higgins Transportation Group of Boulder.

Michael Buell, a professional mountain bike racer from the valley, said he understands the opposition to the project because many people don’t like to see change or growth. However, he credited the Tree Farm for introducing advanced planning concepts, such as energy efficiency and less emphasis on personal vehicles.

“If you’re going to approve any project, this is the one,” Buell said.

The planning commission’s recommendation for approval was a blow to Basalt. The town government has repeatedly asked Eagle County to encourage Lane to seek annexation into Basalt so the town can review the project. Basalt’s reasoning is that an urban-style development adjacent to its boundaries belongs in the town.

Lane explained that he has dealt with Eagle County government for years with various projects on his property. He struck a deal with the county that created a new road in the El Jebel area. And he said it wasn’t appropriate now to switch jurisdictions.

Bob Morris, deputy county attorney, indicated Lane has the leverage on where the project gets reviewed. “The county commissioners don’t have a say in whether this project is annexed to Basalt,” he said.

No date has been set yet for the project’s review by the county commissioners.