Midvalley agritourism proposal hits wall at Planning Commission
EL JEBEL – A midvalley planning commission voted 4-0 Thursday to advise the Eagle County commissioners to deny a proposal for an agritourism business on a Missouri Heights ranch because it will change the rural neighborhood.
The denial came after roughly 150 residents of Missouri Heights attended a hearing in opposition, held in El Jebel. Out of about 20 speakers, only two voiced support for the proposal by Alex and Laura Kim.
In addition, foes presented a petition signed by 409 people who asked that the Kims’ proposal be denied.
The opposition was labeled “overwhelming” by Jay Leavitt, a member of the Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission. Leavitt was joined by Planning Commission members Temple Glassier, Ken Ransford and Kim Bock in the vote.
The proposal still can go to the Eagle County commissioners for a final vote if the Kims choose to let their application advance.
The Kims are seeking a way to utilize their 47-acre ranch, which is now mostly an irrigated hayfield. It is about two miles above El Jebel. They proposed an agritourism business featuring eight guest rooms adjacent to their house and approval to hold as many as 52 special events per year – ranging from “farm-to-fork” dinners to weddings and corporate retreats. They wanted permission to host 26 events per year with between 100 and 170 guests. The application also said the Kims want to offer cooking classes that emphasize use of local ingredients.
The opponents’ top complaint was that the proposal would commercialize Missouri Heights, a sprawling area of large-lot subdivisions and a handful of surviving ranches.
Attorney Tim Whitsitt, representing Aspen Mesa Estates, said the Kims’ proposal doesn’t meet neighborhood-compatibility guidelines in Eagle County planning documents.
“This is precisely what was recommended to be avoided in the Midvalley Master Plan,” he said.
Missouri Heights resident and former Pitkin County Commissioner Joe Edwards said the application was cleverly disguised under the cloak of agritourism. The guest rooms are really a hotel, Edwards said, and the cooking classes constitute a school. The dinners are really a restaurant.
“They call it farm to table to make it sound cute,” Edwards said.
The Kims require a zoning change to make their plan work. Edwards said that change can be made only if the surrounding neighborhood uses have evolved into something different. They haven’t, he argued, but approving the Kims’ request could trigger the changes.
Speaker after speaker spoke of concerns about the proposal – from increased traffic on a dicey road leading into Missouri Heights from El Jebel to potential impacts of commercial use on the water table to noise and adverse effects on wildlife.
Jay Magidson was one of the few neighbors of the Kims who spoke in favor of the application.
“Maybe I’m a contrarian,” he said. “I like the idea. I like change.”
Magidson said he didn’t believe all the adverse impacts foes identified would come to fruition. There will be more consistent traffic and noise if the property is chopped into residential lots, he said.
“At least consider this might be a good thing,” Magidson urged the Planning Commission members.
Other speakers countered that a subdivision covenant prohibits further subdividing of the Kims’ lot. Eagle County officials said they don’t enforce subdivision covenants and that issue would have to be resolved in the legal arena if it turns into a dispute.
Missouri Heights rancher Felix Tornare said he understands the concerns of his neighbors but that he also sees a need for creative ways for owners of large parcels to hold on to their land.
“We have to remember we’re being pushed on all sides by houses,” he said.
Tornare said he wasn’t necessarily advocating for the Kims’ specific proposal, but he wanted to see some sort of compromise that would allow them to hold on to the property.
“Everybody wants to preserve land. Nobody wants (a different kind of proposal) in their backyard,” he said.
After a 90-minute public hearing, Planning Commission members offered similar thoughts. Ransford said he doesn’t like to make “yes” or “no” decisions. He had hoped the Kims and neighbors would find middle ground when asked earlier by the commission to meet. The meeting took place in July but was contentious, various parties reported.
Glassier said agritourism is a “good concept” that she could support, though not on the scale proposed by the Kims. She implied she would still like to see a compromise struck for the benefit of Missouri Heights.
“The 47-acre parcels in the valley are falling apart,” Glassier said.
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