Midvalley Democrats launch effort to defeat Tree Farm in El Jebel
EAGLE COUNTY – Midvalley Democrats launched a surprise maneuver Tuesday night at their precinct caucuses to try a different tactic to defeat a midvalley development project called the Tree Farm.
Democrats from the Eagle County portion of the Roaring Fork Valley voted 22-0 to urge the county commissioners to “refrain from approving” the Tree Farm, according to Harvey Branscomb, co-chair of Eagle County Democrats. The group also voted unanimously to refrain from approving or promoting “urban style development that is outside incorporated cities.”
The Eagle County Commissioners voted 2-1 last September to grant the first of three required approvals to Ace Lane’s Tree Farm project in El Jebel. He wants to build 319 residences and 96,000 square feet of commercial space at the property surrounding his water ski lake, across Highway 82 from the Willits General Store.
The project brought out large crowds on both sides of the issue when public hearings were held last summer. Midvalley resident Kan Ransford organized opposition then, and he revived the topic at Tuesday’s caucus. Ransford first questioned Eagle County Commissioner Sara Fisher about her position, according to Branscomb. Fisher, who voted for the Tree Farm, is seeking the Democrat’s endorsement for her re-election effort this year.
After Fisher departed to attend another precinct caucus, the midvalley Democrats voted on the resolution against the Tree Farm.
Fisher said she didn’t view the discussion of the Tree Farm as an ambush. “I expected it. It was going to either be that or property taxes,” she said.
The caucus is an appropriate place for candidates seeking party endorsement to state their positions, Fisher said. So, in that sense, she didn’t mind discussing the Tree Farm. But she didn’t want to debate Ransford on the project, and she had to be cautious in discussing the project because it is an active application before the commissioners.
Fisher noted that the first round of approval granted to the Tree Farm doesn’t bind the county to approving the project. It simply allowed the developer to progress with more detailed information.
“It’s still a work in progress and it still doesn’t have final approval,” she said.
Ransford was out of his office Wednesday and unavailable for comment. In an e-mail regarding the caucus, Ransford said the Tree Farm will produce too much traffic and congestion, particularly combined with the partially built Willits and Shadowrock projects, which have stalled in the recession.
“This will bring in 3,000 to 4,000 new residents, and make El Jebel one of the largest cities in the Colorado River Basin, bigger than Granby, Hot Sulphur Springs, Kremmling, New Castle, Silt, Parachute, De Beque and other towns that have been larger than El Jebel for most of Colorado’s history,” Ransford wrote.
Midvalley Democrats will try to get their Tree Farm opposition passed as part of the Eagle County Democrat’s platform when the county assembly is held March 30, Branscomb said.
If they are successful, the move is mostly symbolic. Fisher wouldn’t be required to follow the party’s platform.
Jon Fredericks, Lane’s land-use planner on the Tree Farm, said the September votes by the county commissioners “spoke loudly” about their support for the project. Lane will seek the second round of approval for the Tree Farm in late 2010 or early 2011, Fredericks said. The time required to prepare the next layer of details for the planning process plus economic conditions have combined to slow the project, he said.
Lane’s team hired a research firm to perform a market analysis to determine if the demand will exist for the project once the recession lifts. The study was required by the county commissioners.
When asked if it was appropriate for foes of the project to raise the issue during the Democratic caucus, Fredericks replied, “People certainly have the right to speak their mind.”
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The state transportation department’s $2.6 million plan to rebuild the roundabout west of Aspen next summer and fall appears to be moving along on schedule based on two votes in the Upper Roaring Fork Valley last week.