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Neighbors say plan too dense

Jeremy Heiman

Neighbors of the W/J Ranch are strongly against a development proposal floated by Lowe W/J, the new owner of the ranch.

Members of the Woody Creek Caucus Planning Commission and the W/J Homeowners Association board of directors say Lowe’s plan calls for development that is too dense and too urban for the rural neighborhood. Both groups fear traffic problems, and both assert that approval of the development as planned would set a bad precedent for other rural areas of Pitkin County.

Lowe W/J filed a conceptual plan with the Pitkin County planning office Friday, calling for 12 large free-market houses, 125 deed-restricted houses and 16 affordable townhouses on the 210-acre ranch.

The homeowners association represents owners of 50 dwellings built on the ranch in the 1980s. Paul Jones, a member of the homeowners association board, said the developers have earned the homeowners’ respect. But he fears Lowe is up against a difficult or impossible task in trying to make a profit on the piece of property while creating a development of appropriate size.

“They’re great people,” Jones said. “They’re going about it in the way they should. They’re respectful, they’ve hired good planners.”

He also praised the “what you see is what you get” aspect of Lowe’s plan. Lowe representatives have said the company doesn’t intend to add further development at a later date, he said.

But, Jones said, with the debt Lowe took on to buy the property, the new owners have to dig out of a pretty deep hole. This has led to the plan that calls for 153 more dwellings on the ranch when perhaps 60 dwellings would be more appropriate, he said.

The largest part of the development, with 111 affordable dwellings, is planned for a spot across McLain Flats Road from the existing neighborhood.

“The 111 units are urban density,” Jones said. “This would almost quadruple the size of our neighborhood. It’s setting a precedent for massive development in rural areas.”

Phil Holstein, a caucus planning commission member, observed that with 153 new dwellings added to the existing 50 units and another 15 already approved, Lowe’s claims of low density development are off base.

“That’s not low density,” Holstein said. “It’s the densest thing that would ever have been built in rural Pitkin County.”

Holstein read the following statement from the commission:

“The Woody Creek Caucus is adamantly opposed to any large, dense development at W/J. We view the Lowe proposal as very destructive of our rural community and values, and contrary to the limitations placed on development at W/J by prior planned unit development approvals and zoning.”

Holstein noted that the upper bench of the ranch, where Lowe hopes to build 12 free-market houses and 30 affordable houses, was declared off limits to development in a Pitkin County resolution signed in the late 1980s, when the existing houses were built.

County planner Lance Clarke said Lowe has asked the county to reverse that resolution and allow development on the upper bench.

“That was to be open space,” Holstein declared. “If Lowe could do that, why wouldn’t any other subdivision be able to ask for that?”

The proposed development would quadruple traffic on Jaffee Hill, an already dangerous stretch of road, Jones noted.

Holstein compared the Lowe plan to the plan for 778 dwellings proposed by former owner John Musick.

“I just think this is Musick, Scene 2,” he said. “Every neighborhood in the Woody Creek area that I’ve talked to is opposed to it.”

All in all, the Lowe plan calls for too much development, Jones said.

“They’re doing the best they can, but I’m still against it,” he said.


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