Fire-and-brimstone criticism greets Emma church plans
A Basalt church is running into a devil of a time trying to get a plan approved to relocate its flock to an old sheep ranch in Emma.The Grace Church purchased the Jack Gredig property, just downvalley from the old Emma schoolhouse, earlier this year with designs on building an 8,600-square-foot house of worship, a smaller chapel for weddings and special occasions, and a 2,800-square-foot office building and classroom. The congregation also plans to preserve existing ranch buildings at the site in the interest of living history.But some Emma-area residents have panned the proposal for creating too much congestion in the semirural area. Basalt’s planning commission expressed concerns that the proposal was an urban-style development in a location outside the town’s urban growth boundary. And Pitkin County’s planning staff is advising the county commissioners to deny the necessary land-use approvals.The commissioners have postponed their review of the project at the church’s request to give the congregation more time to earn support.In a meeting yesterday with the county commissioners, Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux said he has fielded numerous “concerns” about the proposal.The Grace Church saga is a classic case of growth spilling into a rural area. It is one of several churches in the area that have discovered that the large amounts of land they need is significantly cheaper outside of town. The Methodist congregation moved out of its historic Basalt church last year for a different site that can accommodate growth in Holland Hills; the Catholic parish is also shopping for an alternative site.Grace Church holds services in Basalt but viewed the Gredig property as a permanent midvalley home.The church ran into its first trouble when it failed to earn an endorsement for its plan from the Basalt planning commission. That board was asked by Pitkin County to make a nonbinding recommendation.”The Grace Church proposal lies outside of the Town’s Urban Growth Boundary and the Town is extremely concerned that this proposed development would contribute to urban sprawl not only with its own buildings but also that such growth could instigate future development in one of the few remaining rural areas of the midvalley,” Basalt planning commissioners wrote. “The Planning and Zoning Commission is not against the proposed church but is against its location.”A thorough review by the county planning staff also led to a recommendation to deny the application, on numerous grounds. In one key finding, the staff determined the proposal doesn’t meet the Downvalley Comprehensive Plan’s goal to preserve the rural, residential character of the Emma area.Some neighbors have chimed in with claims that the church would create too much congestion and generate too much traffic for the area.The church wants to work with the county and town to try to resolve issues, according to its planning consultant, Doug Dotson of Otak. Church representatives want to meet with the Basalt Town Council. Town Manager Bill Efting said the council will honor the church’s request, but will likely refer the issue back to the planning commission. The P&Z and not the council, he said, is the appropriate body to make land-use referrals.The church may face an even tougher time earning support from neighbors. The Emma area, which skirts the Pitkin-Eagle county line, has been the site of recent land-use battles over a humongous horse barn and a parrot sanctuary. Residents have struggled to preserve the character in those and other land-use debates.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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