Public urges denial of El Jebel Tree Farm project |

Public urges denial of El Jebel Tree Farm project

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Midvalley residents turned out by the score Thursday night to urge a midvalley planning commission to vote to deny the Tree Farm project in El Jebel.

The Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission didn’t vote, but they listened to public comment for about 90 minutes. A rough count showed 22 audience members spoke against the project while five spoke in favor. There was a standing-room-only crowd of about 100 people. Many people who didn’t speak cheered points made by opponents of the project.

“This has been a landslide by any measure,” speaker Peter Mertz said. He added that the planning commission should listen to what midvalley residents have to say.

The resounding message was that the project is too dense, will generate too much traffic and overwhelm the schools with additional students.

“I never thought I’d be begging people not to pave paradise,” Tom O’Keefe said. “I don’t want this project downsized. I don’t want it all.”

Landowner Ace Lane and his company, Woody Ventures LLC, applied for 134,500 square feet of commercial space, including a hotel, and as many as 400 residences, including 46 units of affordable housing. The 71-acre site is located north of Highway 82 across from Whole Foods. The site is outside the Basalt town boundary in unincorporated Eagle County. Basalt wants the county to deny the project and urge Lane to apply for annexation into the town (see related story on A8).

Three people who spoke in favor of the project were self-described millennials who said it will provide much-needed affordable housing.

“My generation has no place to live in the valley,” said Bill Bloekor, who noted that almost all audience members were baby boomers established in the valley.

Project proponent Holly Buell said she has been married for about a year and forced by the high price of housing to share a residence at Willits with a total of five people. Lane’s project will give her and her husband a chance to rent their own place, she said.

Kathy Nelson said she sympathized with the younger people, but noted that nearly everyone who has taken root in the Roaring Fork Valley struggled to establish housing. Nelson and numerous other speakers said the Tree Farm as proposed won’t provide enough affordable housing, if any at all.

“I understand what the younger people are saying,” Nelson said. “What I see with this project is the affordable housing isn’t going to happen.”

Royal Laybourn noted that the affordable housing would include one-bedroom units that rent for $1,250 under current Eagle County guidelines. He said the project won’t provide truly affordable housing for people trying to gain a toehold in the valley.

“This project isn’t developing what they need,” Harvey Branscomb said.

Antoine Ozaneaux countered that Lane is providing housing for working-class people and creating a unique project. Lane’s team has stressed throughout the review that the building in the project will far exceed energy efficiency and other environmentally friendly characteristics.

“This man’s going to leave a legacy,” Ozaneaux said, adding that he hopes the streets in the development are named after Lane’s children to mark that legacy.

Suzy Ellison suggested Lane could make an even greener project.

“The most energy-efficient neighborhood is the one that doesn’t get built,” she said.

Several speakers complained that the Eagle County planning staff allowed Lane to drastically alter his proposal midstream. Lane got first-round approval for his project, called sketch-plan approval by Eagle County, in September 2009. The number of residences was then 319 and the commercial square footage was 96,375.

The project stalled during the recession, but when Lane revived it last year he sought a 25 percent increase in residences and 42 percent increase in commercial space, according to speaker Doug Graybeal, a former chairman of the planning commission. He said a developer is only allowed to make minor adjustments to an application between the first- and second-round reviews, as stated by the Eagle County land-use code.

“I don’t call those minor,” Graybeal said. “I call those major.”

Speaker Michael McVoy probably received the loudest ovation from the audience with a fiery call for the planning commission to reject the second-round approval and send the project back to square one. “This is a different plan,” he said.

“You’re our last line of local defense, essentially,” McVoy told the commission.

The meeting was continued to Oct. 22 for the planning commission to begin deliberations and, in theory, make an advisory vote for the county commissioners.