Midvalley board recommends denial of Tree Farm project in El Jebel | AspenTimes.com

Midvalley board recommends denial of Tree Farm project in El Jebel

The Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission voted Thursday night to recommend denial of Ace Lane's Tree Farm project in El Jebel.

The board voted 6-0 against the project in an advisory vote to the Eagle County commissioners. The project will still advance to a vote by the commissioners unless Lane and his team withdraw the application and rework the proposal.

Lane attended the meeting but departed when the direction was emerging well before the vote.

The planning commission members expressed concerns about issues including traffic, variances to parking and street standards and an inadequate amount of affordable housing. Board members said they wanted affordable housing for seniors as well as child care included in the project.

Several members also said they felt the project should be annexed into the town of Basalt and reviewed by the town. Assistant County Attorney Beth Ayres Oliver wouldn't let the commission make that recommendation to the county commission. She said Eagle County is powerless to force a landowner to seek annexation.

Right place, wrong plan

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Planning commission members acknowledged Lane's property across Highway 82 from Whole Foods is appropriate for development, but that the plan isn't right for the site.

Lane is seeking approval for as many as 400 residential units, with 46 being designated affordable housing, and 135,000 square feet of commercial space.

"I believe this plan is not compatible with the land-use code," said planning commission member Catherine Markle. She said she disagreed with the county planning staff interpretation that the plan matched Eagle County standards.

"I feel that we're falling short with the plan as it is," she said.

Planning Commission Chairwoman Temple Glassier said she liked the vision for the property that Lane expressed at a Oct. 22 meeting but doesn't believe his application achieves the vision. She said the application leaves too many variables undefined.

"I can't fully support something that's not fully ironed out," she said.

Commission member Raul Gawrys agreed. "I sort of look at this as the 'we could do this' application," he said.

Affordable housing at center stage

Gawrys grilled Lane's teams about various aspects of the plan during seven prior meetings over the past five months. When it came time for the planning commission members to express their views for the first time Thursday, Gawrys said he couldn't support the lack of detail on characteristics such as architectural guidelines and qualifications for residents of the affordable housing.

Gawrys also raised questions about the amount of affordable housing. Lane's obligation for affordable housing was reduced by 50 percent because he committed to building 46 rental units in the first phase. Gawrys said the typical incentive for a developer is to let them build more overall residences if they increase the amount of affordable housing.

"This is completely opposite," he said.

Comission member Charles Spickert noted that the overwhelming concern expressed by residents was that the project would add to traffic congestion. He said he wasn't convinced the project does enough to ensure adequate circulation within or outside the project. The message to the Eagle County commissioners should be to spend the funds on road improvements before approving additional development.

Spickert also said he wanted further limits on the size of an individual retail site at the Tree Farm. At the Oct. 22 meeting, Lane's team agreed to limit the size of any single site to 45,000 square feet. Spickert said it should be limited to 30,000 square feet, a condition that Lane's team agreed to later the in the discussion.

Lane's team 'shocked'

Members of Lane's team claimed during the hearing that they were caught off-guard by the commission's direction.

"It's a little bit shocking at the end to hear pretty significant comments that we haven't heard before," said Lane's land-use planner, Jon Fredericks.

Dave Marrs, the chief financial officer for the development team, said the demands for more affordable housing and child care as well as less density overall would make the project impossible to build.

"The development can't build all that," Marrs said. "Who's going to pay for that?"

Marrs and Fredericks tried to keep the dialogue open with the planning commission after it initially was obvious the vote was going against them. Eagle County planner Scot Hutt and Oliver also encouraged more discussion.

Marrs said the proposal was formed, in large part, by comments from the planning commission in the first step of the review, called sketch plan. But Glassier countered that Lane's team ignored a major direction from the earlier review.

Glassier said the public voiced many of the same concerns when the project was first reviewed in 2009.

"The public said, 'It's too big, it's too big, it's too big,'" Glassier said. "It was too big in the beginning. It got bigger."

Marrs said after the meeting that he would talk to Lane on how to proceed with the application.

scondon@aspentimes.com

WHAT IT MEANS

The Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission makes advisory votes for the Eagle County Commissioners. Landowner Ace Lane can advance to a hearing before the county commissioners depsite widespread public opposition and the planning commission denial or he can withdraw the project and rework it.

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