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Pitco critical of Sanders Ranch

Allyn Harvey

The owners and would-be developers of Sanders Ranch along the lower Roaring Fork River appear to have already broken a promise to preserve sensitive habitat, and the Pitkin County commissioners might have something to say about it.

In a letter addressed to Garfield County Planning Director Mark Bean, the commissioners express strong support for an agreement between the Roaring Fork Conservancy and Sopris Development Group to preserve nearly 54 acres of riparian habitat along the banks of the Roaring Fork River and Cattle Creek. But they also wonder why the property remains unprotected “in spite of the commitment in the agreement to convey the conservation easement by Aug. 31, 1999,” the letter reads.

If commissioners approve the latest draft of the letter when they meet tomorrow, they will end up saying plenty more about the Sanders Ranch proposal. It calls for nearly 600 new homes and 300,000 square feet of office and retail space on a 280-acre parcel of undeveloped land at the confluence of Cattle Creek and the Roaring Fork River.

Sanders Ranch is located between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale on the south side of Highway 82, the opposite side of the highway from the turnoffs to Colorado Mountain College and the auto wrecking yard.

Its future has been a point of contention since late 1997, when the current owners proposed 700,000 square feet of commercial space and about 600 residential units. That plan was met head-on by an angry populace, which filled every public meeting on the application with hours of testimony in opposition. After the Garfield County planning commission recommended against approval in spring 1998, the developers withdrew the application.

Now they’re back with a somewhat scaled-back version of the original proposal. “It’s different in the sense that there is significantly less density, if you characterize 700,000 square feet of commercial development versus 300,000 square feet of commercial development as significantly less,” said Mark Bean, Garfield County’s planning director.

Bean said Pitkin County was invited to comment on the new application because local governments agreed a few years ago that it would be a good idea if they could review large projects in each other’s jurisdictions. He said the application is in the early stages of review, so the commissioners’ concerns will be on the record through most of the process.

Pitkin County’s letter opens with a paragraph about growth boundaries, and the efforts by Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale to focus development in urban areas. Sanders Ranch, it notes, is well outside the metro areas of both Glenwood Springs and Carbondale. “Commercial development of this magnitude is inappropriate in this location and contributes to sprawl in the valley,” it reads.

As if that weren’t clear enough, the letter goes on to attack Sopris Development’s attempt to characterize its proposal as simply an addition to the already-crowded urban landscape.

“The Applicant’s reference to Sanders Ranch as an `infill project’ is incongruous, inaccurate and misleading. An infill project would be located in an urban area, would promote auto independence, would limit consumption of undeveloped land, and would promote the efficient and economical provision of public services and urban services. This project does not meet these criteria,” the letter reads.

It continues by pointing out the Roaring Fork Transit Agency’s reluctance to expand bus service for the development, notes the added pressure on the housing market that comes with large commercial developments, and questions whether payments promised to the school district are sufficient to cover costs.


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