No Crown for midvalley sports complex, hockey arena; new site sought

Proponent decides Crown Mountain Park won’t work for idea, looking at El Jebel lot

The man with a plan for a midvalley recreation center has set his sights on a different piece of ground in the midvalley.

Sheldon Wolitski said Tuesday he is talking to Crawford Properties about a location on their vacant land in El Jebel for a hockey arena and sports complex rather than Crown Mountain Park. He said he and Crown Mountain Park executive director Rebecca Wagner came to the conclusion last week that a proposed site at the park probably wasn’t big enough for Wolitski’s long-term plan.

“It really had to do with the future,” Wolitski said. “I just need to spread my wings a little bit.”

It’s an abrupt change in direction after a promising start for locating the facilities at Crown Mountain Park. The park and recreation district’s board of directors voted Jan. 20 to open preliminary talks with Eagle County officials on the possibility of leasing Wolitski land for an ice arena, field house and potentially related endeavors. A specific site was selected at Crown Mountain but as the idea has evolved, Wolitski said it became clear that he needed a site where expansion was possible.

Sheldon Wolitski wants to build a hockey arena and sports complex in the midvalley. He has ruled out Crown Mountain Park but is looking in El Jebel.
Courtesy image

Wagner informed the board of directors about the change of direction in a memo on Thursday.

“In the past week both myself and Sheldon agreed that the project that started out as a community ice rink has grown into a much bigger vision,” Wagner wrote. “We both feel this building makes sense in another location. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with him. I’m excited to see his vision come to life.”

Wolitski said Tuesday he intends to fund the facility himself, without bringing in investors or partners. A key to achieving that would be subleasing space to businesses and nonprofits oriented around health, wellness and longevity. The leases could raise the revenues necessary to ease some pressure of raising funds via memberships at a recreation center, he said.

Wolitski said he has toured the property owned by Crawford Properties in El Jebel and will explore possibilities further. Robert Hubbell, president of Crawford Properties, confirmed that they are discussing the concept. Crawford Properties also wants to explore building an affordable housing community on some of its remaining vacant land, Hubbell said. Land use planner Doug Pratte is looking into the process needed to tweak current land use approvals.

The Crawford family has been one of the largest private providers of affordable housing in the Roaring Fork Valley, if not the largest. They added 46 affordable residences in 2017 to their existing 298-unit mobile home park.

Hubbell said it is too preliminary to know yet how many additional units could be built. Approvals would be required from Eagle County.

Hubbell said the affordable housing community would be complementary to Wolitski’s development.

“This could be something really cool,” Hubbell said.

Wolitski said he is also feeling good about the change in direction.

“Early on, I was pushing really hard to get a shovel in the ground this year,” he said. Now he doesn’t believe that will happen. He wants to take his time and make sure he has a plan that is best in the long run.

“I want to make sure the location is ideal,” Wolitski said.

Changing potential sites could also avoid a potential land-use battle to locate at Crown Mountain Park. Some neighbors already were gearing up to oppose an indoor recreation facility there on the grounds that it would add too much traffic and congestion along Valley Road.

The Crawford Property already has a master plan for development. Approvals would need to be tweaked for Wolitski’s project. It remains to be seen how neighborhood residents would receive the plan.