Public benefits could make or break midvalley development proposal called the Fields |

Public benefits could make or break midvalley development proposal called the Fields

County staff recommends approval; citizens organizing opposition via petition

This image from the development application for the Fields shows the site across Highway 82 from Blue Lake.
Image from land use application

Eagle County staff has recommended approval of a mid-Roaring Fork Valley development proposal called the Fields. Some midvalley residents are saying not so fast.

A land-use consultant for the county wrote a recent memo that says the application complies with Eagle County regulations.

“Based on a thorough analysis of the materials as presented, staff finds that all standards for the Zone Change, Variation from Improvement Standards, and Combined Sketch and Preliminary Plan for Subdivision have been met with the addition of the aforementioned conditions,” wrote T.J. Dlubac, owner and principal of a firm called Community Planning Strategies. The firm, based in Summit County, is handling land-use application reviews because the county planning office is short-staffed after recent turnover.

Some midvalley residents are arranging opposition to the project. An online petition is being circulated that calls on Eagle County officials to deny the application.

“This application consists of a rezoning request which compromises public safety, the environment, public services and public utilities,” the petition states.

The formal debate is scheduled to begin Thursday when the Fields goes before the Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission, which advises the Eagle County commissioners on land-use matters in the Roaring Fork portion of the county. The meeting will be held at 2:30 p.m. at the Eagle County office building adjacent to Crown Mountain Park.

The developers of the Fields have applied to build as many as 135 residences of mixed types on 19.39 acres of land along Valley Road. The site is located across Highway 82 from Blue Lake subdivision.

The property is currently zoned Rural Residential, which allows development of one home per 2 acres. In this case, that would allow nine homes.

The development group, headed by Evan Schreiber, has applied to change the zoning to Residential Multi-Family, which allows up to seven dwellings per acre.

The staff memo said that the rezoning complies with what the 2018 Mid Valley Area Community Plan and associated Future Land Use Map envisioned on the property. Since the property is adjacent to Summit Vista subdivision to the east and across the highway from Blue Lake subdivision, the property was envisioned as “urban/suburban residential development” allowing up to seven dwellings per acre.

The debate could ultimately come down to whether the project provides enough community benefits to justify the upzoning.

The developers tout the addition of price-capped, deed-restricted affordable housing, improvements to the intersection of Valley Road and Highway 82, a financial contribution to Eagle County’s planned reworking of the intersection of El Jebel Road, and construction of a public trail and traffic calming along Valley Road.

But many midvalley residents view it differently. Roughly 25 letters have been submitted to Eagle County about the most recent application. All but two opposed it and urged denial.

The most common complaint was traffic. The Fields is expected to generate an increase of 1,021 vehicle trips per day over existing levels. Valley Road, which has been a quite country lane, will be forced to absorb traffic heading both upvalley and downvalley.

“The traffic in the valley is crippling,” said a letter to the county from Mary Megan Chestet, a midvalley resident. “We do not have the services to support the increase in population that Eagle County is approving. It is destroying the character and quality of our lives.”

Some of the public comments claimed Eagle County set a bad precedent with its 2017 approval of the Tree Farm, a project 1 mile upvalley from the Fields that will add up to 340 residences and 135,000 square feet of commercial space. It is under development now.

The site plan for the Fields, where up to 135 residences are proposed in the midvalley.
Image from the land use application

Affordable housing could weigh heavily in the debate over the Field’s pubic benefits. According to the staff memo, the developers revised their application in March to increase the amount of affordable housing. Initially, they planned to meet Eagle County’s minimum recommended mitigation by making 12.5% of the total units affordable housing, or 17 of the 135. Now, the applicants are proposing to provide 27 price-capped, deed-restricted units. That is 20% of the total.

The staff memo said the housing plan “constitutes a public benefit and should be evaluated as such.”

Meeting Eagle County’s threshold might prove easier than satisfying public opinion on affordable housing. The Roaring Fork Valley is facing an unprecedented shortage of affordable housing with the conversion of long-term rentals into short-term tourist accommodations and sales of previous investment properties to people moving to the valley.

The staff memo said the application adequately mitigates the development’s impact on affordable housing, traffic calming on Valley Road and off-site trail connections to surrounding amenities, but it acknowledged there is room for debate.

“The evaluation of the application impacts and the appropriate level of public benefit needed to offset those impacts are under the authority of the Board of County Commissioners,” the memo said. “Therefore, the Planning Commission may evaluate the impacts and mitigation strategies presented in the application and recommend to the Board of County Commissioners that the public benefit standard has not been met contrary to staff’s evaluation and recommendation contained within this staff report.”