New document will guide growth in the midvalley
BASALT – For the first time since 1991, Eagle County has updated a key planning document that will guide growth in the El Jebel and Basalt areas for possibly decades to come.
The Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission approved the new Mid Valley Area Community Plan on Thursday after five years of work. More than 50 planning professionals and residents of the midvalley played a role on a technical advisory committee, which helped create the plan.
“They are important guiding documents,” said Cliff Simonton, senior land-use planner for Eagle County. “They represent what the citizens are telling the elected officials.”
The effort to update the master plan after 22 years started in 2008 but got pushed to a back burner when Eagle County’s budget plummeted during the Great Recession.
“It remained intact, but it’s moving slowly,” Simonton said. “The process usually takes two years. This one took five.”
In a nutshell, the document advises keeping the rural feel of Missouri Heights and Emma. The special environment of the Fryingpan River Valley, featuring recreational opportunities, also should be preserved, the document said.
“Folks liked what was there,” Simonton said. “They didn’t feel it needed to change all that much. These are areas where preservation is a major focus.”
The Highway 82 corridor – where bus stops as well as many urban services exist – should be where the bulk of growth is directed, according to the plan.
To see the plan, go to http://www.eaglecounty.us/Planning, and click on “Master Planning Projects,” and then click on “Mid Valley Area Community Plan Update.”
Temple Glassier, a lifelong resident of the midvalley and chairwoman of the planning commission, said the document comes with both benefits and shortfalls.
“It’s been forever that we’ve had a plan that looked at distinct areas,” Glassier said. While each major area of the midvalley has distinct characteristics, there was a generic master plan for dealing with them in the 1991 plan, she said.
This plan recognizes that the Fryingpan Valley has a narrow, twisting mountain road capable of handling only so much traffic, for example, Glassier said. And the plan recognizes that Missouri Heights faces finite water-supply issues because it is served by individual wells tapping an aquifer.
Unfortunately, Glassier said, the new master plan cannot clear up years of poor land-use planning that has created a hodgepodge of growth in the valley floor.
“That’s my most depressing part of the valley,” Glassier said of the Highway 82 corridor.
How much influence the document will have on the three Eagle County commissioners, now and in the future, is an evolving issue. In the past decade or so, the county commissioners have paid a great deal of attention to the master plan, Simonton said. A major part of the county’s review of land-use applications focuses on compliance with the master plan.
However, the master plan is an advisory document only. At times in the past, county commissioners have downplayed it, Simonton acknowledged.
Bob Schultz, a midvalley civic activist and a consultant on issues including planning, said that because the document is advisory, it is fairly “toothless.”
On its own merits, he sees mixed results.
“Overall, the plan is OK,” he said. “The environmental parts are best.”
On the environmental front, the master plan provides strong direction on dark-sky rules limiting lighting, stream setbacks and preserving ridgeline views.
Schultz also noted that Eagle County doesn’t hold jurisdiction over much undeveloped land in the midvalley.
“Basalt’s annexation of Willits and the business parks have made Eagle County a bit player, for better or worse,” Schultz said. “Basalt is the big dog now.”
Ace Lane’s property across Highway 82 from the El Jebel City Market and Ted Guy’s property along Willits Lane are two of the largest undeveloped land parcels remaining. The Crawford family also has undeveloped land mixed in with its commercial center and mobile-home parks in the heart of El Jebel.
Glassier said that despite some shortcomings of the document, land-use planning should be improved in the midvalley, thanks to the effort put into the plan.
“You feel good about this one because everybody’s seen it three or four times,” she said, referring to the Planning Commission, technical review committee and county planning staff. “We’ve beaten the crap out of it.”
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