Midvalley rec center draws criticism from Pitkin County
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – Pitkin County won’t take a position, at least not yet, on a proposed midvalley recreation center in El Jebel, but some county commissioners had harsh words Tuesday for the envisioned 85,000-square-foot facility at Crown Mountain Park.
The center will be reviewed by Eagle County, but Pitkin County can forward referral comments for the Eagle County Regional Planning and Zoning Commission and Eagle County commissioners to consider.
Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman, an Emma resident who lives within the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District, suggested the county oppose the proposed facility, predicting it will become a “tremendous tax burden” in the midvalley.
Other communities struggle to subsidize their recreation centers, he noted, and what’s planned at Crown Mountain will cost an estimated $25 million to construct at build-out, along with ongoing operation and maintenance costs.
“I just think the proposal is unrealistic and it’s not sustainable,” he said.
Proponents of the recreation center intend to put a question on the November 2011 ballot to seek property tax funding for the facility. The first phase would be about 61,000 square feet, including a swimming pool, gym, area for weight lifting, aerobic machines, meeting space and other recreational components. Later phases include the construction of tennis courts and a sheet of ice.
“This actually goes so far for me as to be verging on the irresponsible,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield said. “I think we should come down pretty strongly against it. This is a big boondoggle, in my mind.”
Noting the effects of the proposed recreational facility in conjunction with other proposed development in the area, Hatfield said: “This is the Edwards-ization of El Jebel,” referring to the burgeoning community along Interstate 70 in Eagle County.
Commissioner Michael Owsley, while acknowledging concerns about the scale of the rec center, said he supports the concept of a community gathering place at Crown Mountain Park.
“Of all the areas I can think of, El Jebel is the most in need of development of its own community character,” he said.
“This is not a community center … it’s a gym,” Newman responded.
“It’s not a community center, but that doesn’t mean the activities there can’t become the community heart,” Commissioner Rachel Richards added.
There are two recreation centers within Pitkin County’s borders, she said, calling it inappropriate for the county to pan the aesthetics of one in El Jebel.
“I don’t want us to throw cold water on another community’s plan to grow up,” Richards said.
Commissioner Rob Ittner suggested the county not take a position on the recreation center one way or the other, but simply voice its concerns in its referral comments. Ultimately, that approach won favor with his colleagues.
Parking and traffic are among the big issues. The Crown Mountain facility is expected to generate about 3,630 vehicles per weekday at build-out, and the proposed Ace Lane Tree Farm development across the highway is expected to generate an additional 3,729 vehicle trips per day on Highway 82, the county’s letter notes. If improvements to the main El Jebel intersection are deemed necessary, the recreation district should have to pay a share of those costs, the letter adds.
The county will also raise concerns about housing for recreation center employees and the potential cost the facility will pose to taxpayers. Hatfield urged county staffers to make sure the proposed rec center complies with the lease agreement between the rec district and Eagle County, which sets forth limits on building development.
Pitkin County is securing an agreement for its own future development plans at Crown Mountain, which was acquired by the two counties in a trade with the U.S. Forest Service. Pitkin and Eagle counties have reached an understanding that allows Pitkin County to build a government facility of up to about 5,900 square feet at some time in the future to meet its needs. Eagle County already has a government building there; Pitkin County could build an addition to it or a separate structure.
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