Midvalley makes final pitch to preserve Sopris tree farm | AspenTimes.com
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Midvalley makes final pitch to preserve Sopris tree farm

Midvalley residents took advantage of a rare local appearance by the Eagle County commissioners Thursday night to make a final pitch to reserve the Mount Sopris Tree Farm for recreation.

About 200 midvalley residents attended the meeting and roughly 50 spoke. Of the speakers, about 70 percent lobbied Eagle County to scuttle a proposal to build a 15,000-square-foot government office and community center at the tree farm in El Jebel.

The county commissioners came to collect opinions but immediately warned the crowd they wouldn’t make a decision. They are legally bound to make official decisions in the county seat at Eagle.

The decision on the future uses of the tree farm could come as soon as Tuesday in a meeting that starts at 1:30 p.m.

The county has proposed the office building and community center along with multiple recreational uses on the 125-acre tree farm. Eagle County teamed with Pitkin County to acquire the tree farm in 1994 in a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service.

The counties wanted to acquire land for an office and athletic fields as well as to prevent a developer from slapping a bunch of homes or businesses there.

But almost from the day the site was acquired, residents have bickered over the appropriate uses. Thursday night was no different.

The majority of speakers wanted the community building moved to the Willits subdivision, on land the Basalt Town Council has offered to Eagle County for free. Virtually every speaker supported the use of the tree farm for baseball and softball fields, soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts and open space.

“Save as much land as possible,” said Emma resident Willard Clapper. “Move [the office] over to Willits.

“This is a great opportunity for you to display flexibility, for you to display responsive government.”

Willits has been touted as a better site because Basalt is in the process of approving 600,000 square feet of commercial and residential space in the town core. The office makes sense there from a land-use planning perspective, according to several speakers.

“It’s density where density ought to be,” said Basalt resident John Swanson.

Laurie Gish-Soliday, a leader of citizen opposition to the building, questioned whether the commissioners still had open minds or if the decision was made long ago to place the building at the tree farm. She noted that the county had signed contracts with a builder before the review was completed. The county also spent $1.4 million in site preparation.

Gish-Soliday asked Commissioners Tom Stone and Michael Gallagher to exempt themselves from a final vote based on alleged prior biases for the project. They didn’t respond to her request.

While opposition to the office building was widespread, it was far from unanimous. Willits Lane resident Ted Guy said he supported the proposal because it kept the building in the El Jebel core. He said neighbors will still benefit from 120 of the 125 acres remaining open space.

“They should thank their lucky stars they’ve got the empty space,” Guy said.

Missouri Heights resident Royal Laybourn also supported the proposal and noted that Basalt hasn’t set any glowing examples on land-use development.

“Basalt wants to tell Eagle County how to govern,” he said. “But Basalt has approved sprawl that Eagle County turned down. It’s called Willits, or is it Wallets?”

A handful of speakers said it was simply time to resolve the issue.

“I’m hoping, hoping people, that you get together and make something of that property,” said former Eagle County Commissioner Bud Gates, who toiled for years to help acquire the site.

A woman identified as Dee supported the plan and complained that the Roaring Fork Valley has degenerated into a bunch of competing special interests.

“Up and down this valley we don’t act like a community anymore,” she said.

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