Over development vs. affordable housing dominates debate on midvalley project the Fields
Midvalley planning commission plans to make advisory vote on April 21
A three-hour hearing Thursday over a midvalley development proposal called the Fields boiled down to the classic battle dominating Roaring Fork discussions — preservation of quality of life and safety versus easing the affordable housing shortage.
The Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission did not reach a decision but heard from nearly 30 speakers with impassioned pleas. The planning board continued the meeting until April 21, when it will likely make an advisory recommendation for the Eagle County commissioners. The commissioners will then take up the review and make the final call on the project.
The Fields developers are seeking an upzoning of 19 acres along Valley Road, across Highway 82 from the Blue Lake subdivision. They want to build up to 135 residences on property that is currently zoned for nine dwellings. In an effort to sweeten the pot of public benefits, they are offering to build 27 price-capped, deed-restricted units — 58% more than the 17 required by Eagle County’s mitigation rules.
For younger members in an audience of about 70 people, the addition of more affordable housing was music to their ears.
Fabiana Burbano said she has lived at three places in her five years in Pitkin County. She works multiple jobs to keep a toehold.
Burbano, who said she is in her 30s, said buying a free-market home is no longer possible for younger generations of Roaring Fork Valley residents. She supports the Fields because of the opportunities it presents.
“These kind of projects are my only opportunity to own a home here,” she said.
Older, established homeowners are worried the Fields will lead to deterioration of the lifestyle they worked so hard to secure. Multiple residents of Valley Road expressed concerns that approving the project will swamp the old country lane with traffic levels that will jeopardize the safety of kids biking to Crown Mountain Park or people out for a stroll. The developers’ traffic engineer estimated the built-out project would add 1,021 vehicle trips to Valley Road per day.
“Eagle County is responsible when the first kid gets killed on this road,” said Tom O’Keefe, a resident of Valley Road.
Several subplots emerged during the hearing, but housing dominated the discussion. Midvalley residents are getting sick of their once semi-rural area catching the eyes of developers now that Aspen land and development prices are firmly focused on billionaires.
“Keep the area rural,” C.J. Howard said. “That’s why we live here. That’s why we own here.”
Excavator Nicky Humphries countered that if Eagle County rejects proposals such as the Fields, it will just be kicking the problems facing the Roaring Fork Valley down the road. He said he spends more than two hours on the road to commute to work in Aspen.
“How is that sustainable?” he asked. “I am yet again one more person who cannot afford to live here.”
Others pointed fingers at Aspen and Pitkin County and their superheated economies that generate job growth and the need for housing.
O’Keefe said the upper valley needs to do more to house its workers.
“We’re tired of housing Pitkin County’s workers,” he said, with numerous murmurs of agreement from the crowd. “They are not doing nearly enough.”
Steve DeGouveia said affordable housing always has been a problem since he arrived in Aspen in the early 1970s. He was a longtime retailer at Footloose & Fancy Things. It’s hard making a go of it in the valley, he said, but that doesn’t justify the high levels of growth facing the midvalley.
The Fields development group, fronted by Evan Schreiber, is working with Aspen Music Festival and School and Roaring Fork Fire Rescue to make some of the affordable housing units available to them. Representatives of both organizations said they have signed letters of intent for critical housing at the Fields.
The 27 price capped units will be rented through Eagle County rules at specific levels tied to the Area Median Income. But some speakers asked if adding 27 affordable housing units is worth the price of also adding 108 free-market units.
Midvalley resident Bob Smith demanded to know what the housing prices would be.
“I am totally against this project unless they can tell me how much this affordable housing is going to cost,” he said.
Other big topics thrown out on the table for the planning board included pledges by the developer to help with roadway improvements and pedestrian safety. Schreiber’s team committed $400,000 to help improve the overwhelmed intersection of El Jebel Road and Highway 82, close to the Eagle County community center by Crown Mountain Park. Eagle County is working on a plan to reconfigure roadways to improve stacking distance. The project will cost at least $2 million. Audience members said the Fields should not be approved unless and until those improvements are made.
The development team also pledged to build a trail on the south side of Valley Road to connect its area to Crown Mountain Park, if Eagle County successfully completes a contemplated purchase of U.S. Forest Service land in the neighborhood. If that sale falls through, the Fields would donate $300,000 for trail work. Critics said the uncertainty of the offer wasn’t good enough.
A handful of speakers said Eagle County must stop development until the ramifications of all the current growth are known and adequate infrastructure is built.
Former Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, speaking as a private citizen, said the county approves too many urban-style developments in rural areas with inadequate infrastructure.
“There needs to be a timeout until the county catches up,” she said.
The planning board will take up its deliberations April 21 at 2:30 p.m. in the Eagle County building in El Jebel.
(This story was corrected to show the increase in affordable housing was a 58% increase over Eagle County’s requirement.)
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