Midvalley grapples with rural preservation versus ‘smart growth’ | AspenTimes.com

Midvalley grapples with rural preservation versus ‘smart growth’

The Tree Farm proposal calls for 340 residences and nearly 135,000 square feet of commercial space centered around Kodiak Lake, across Highway 82 from Whole Foods. The project faced widespread opposition but was approved 2-1 by the Eagle County Commissioners.
Aspen Times file photo |

Different year, same debate when it comes to how much development should be allowed in the midvalley.

The Roaring Fork Valley Planning Commission heard from a handful of area residents Thursday evening who were about evenly divided on clamping down on development or allowing for a diversity of housing in the El Jebel area.

The commission is reviewing the 2013 Mid Valley Area Community Plan — a blueprint for future land uses that guides the Eagle County Commissioners’ decision — to decide if it needs revisions. While the commission is attending to the technical work, most comments from the audience Thursday were more emotional.

Keith Ehlers, a land use planner who has represented a development proposal called The Fields, said Colorado is growing so counties and communities should make sure development is approved where there is infrastructure to support it — water and sewer service, mass transit, parks and schools. That’s the best way to avoid sprawl into rural areas, he said.

“If we don’t growth smart, we grow out,” Ehlers said.

Other speakers contended that proposals such as The Fields, proposed across Highway 82 from the entrance to Blue Lake subdivision, actually represent sprawl. Kathy Nilsen said the last remaining rural areas around El Jebel should remain rural. Eagle County shouldn’t approve additional projects that advance sprawl, she said.

While the Mid Valley Area Community Plan covers areas such as Missouri Heights, the Fryingpan Valley and part of Emma, it’s the Highway 82 corridor that’s capturing the most attention. A lot of the area is pegged for urban/suburban growth, said Eagle County Planning Director Damian Peduto.

“This is the one that’s going to be talked about because it allows the most things,” he said.

But “most” is in the eye of the beholder. Ehlers contended there are only seven sizable properties with development potential remaining in the Eagle County portion of the midvalley. Two of those are tied to the future construction of a school by the Roaring Fork School District, he said.

Ehlers contended the remaining properties could help solve community issues, such as attainable housing. Housing people closer to where they work might help ease traffic congestion, he said.

Audience member Ryan Ivy agreed. Most of the housing that has been approved in the midvalley recently is apartments and townhouses, he said. He plugged for greater diversity.

“If you don’t approve single family homes, the next generation isn’t going to be able to live here,” Ivy said.

But Basalt Councilman Bernie Grauer said Eagle County should stick to low-density development and leave high-density development to the towns.

Eagle County sparked some ire last year when it approved the Tree Farm development, up to 340 residences and nearly 135,000 square feet of commercial space across Highway 82 from Whole Foods. Basalt officials were vehemently opposed to the approval of urban density in unincorporated Eagle County.

Grauer noted that a lawsuit is challenging Eagle County’s procedure for approving the project. If that lawsuit is successful and developer Ace Lane must return for “a second go-around,” Grauer said, the property should be earmarked for less development.

Grauer also urged Eagle County to fund a survey of its residents in the Roaring Fork Valley to determine what they want to see for future development overall. The midvalley accounts for about 17 percent of Eagle County’s population, according to estimates.

There was no immediate reaction to the request. However, the planning commission announced it wants to take its time to hash out possible revisions to the midvalley plan. It was scheduled to finish the process April 19. The board announced it might need another month to complete its work.