Emma church falls short of receiving Basalt’s blessing | AspenTimes.com

Emma church falls short of receiving Basalt’s blessing

If a midvalley congregation prevails in its quest to build a new church in Emma it’s apparently going to be through baptism by fire.Representatives of Grace Church sought an endorsement for their plan from the Basalt Town Council Tuesday night but instead created another opportunity for their critics to vent.The congregation wants to build a church, a small chapel, offices and associated facilities that would eventually total 15,000 square feet on the former Jack Gredig ranch in Emma. The site is south of Highway 82 and just downvalley from the old Emma school. The Gredigs used to graze sheep there.Wayne Starr, an elder with the church, told the council the campus would not only be a place of worship but also a living history farm to showcase Emma’s past. The church’s plan includes a museum, gardens, orchards and refurbished old ranch buildings on 18.5 acres. A trail system on the site would be open to the public.Starr said he figured Basalt would embrace a chance to keep the church in its fold since it has been located in the midvalley for 28 years. The church was formerly known as the Basalt Bible Church. It sold its property along Highway 82 in the El Jebel area to the Alpine Christian Fellowship congregation.The Grace Church now meets at the Eagle County office and community center on Sundays but wants to re-establish its roots. It bought the Gredig ranch earlier this year.Starr said he viewed the church as an ideal kind of land-use proposal since it keeps the property open. The alternative would likely be a secluded, large single-family home.But a handful of neighbors who attended the hearing claimed the church proposal was too big and created too many impacts, like traffic.”I don’t think any of the neighbors in Emma are terribly thrilled with this,” said area resident David Kelly.He labeled the plan the “worst kind” of land use outside an urban growth boundary. Kelly challenged whether the Emma area should really host facilities that will have a 113-vehicle parking lot. “This is strictly a commuter compound,” he said.Liz Conners, another resident, said she wasn’t against a church per se, just a church at that location. It’s going to change the character of the Emma residential area and potentially spark growth.”If you start your growth out here it’s going to infill toward town, obviously,” she said.At least 30 members of the congregation showed up to extoll the virtues of the church and there was additional support voiced by members of the Episcopalian church in Basalt.But Basalt Town Manager Bill Efting did his best to steer the council out of the fray. He reminded them that standard procedure was to have the planning commission establish the town’s position.Basalt town government doesn’t have the power to approve or deny the church application. The site is located in unincorporated Pitkin County. However, the governments have an agreement that gives the town clout on land-use issues near its border.Starr explained that he wanted the council’s “blessing” for the project and as much support as it could earn from neighbors before it is formally reviewed by the Pitkin County commissioners.But the council took Efting’s advice and remanded the issue back to its planning commission, which has already advised once against approval. Some council members couldn’t resist commenting.Councilwoman Anne Freedman said the amount of development proposed was too much for a rural area. She also noted that it was ironic that earlier in the same meeting the town had honored Emma-area resident Ginny Parker for placing a conservation easement on 25 acres of ranch land then was being asked to endorse the church’s plan to develop 18.5 acres of ranch land.Councilman Glenn Rappaport expressed a completely different view. The congregation, neighbors and area officials ought to be figuring out a way to keep an “essential civic amenity” in Basalt.Mayor Leroy Duroux expressed support for the church, but agreed the matter should be decided by the planning commission.”Is this the ideal location? Probably not,” he said. “Are there other options? Probably not.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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