Residents voice opinions on Rocky Mountain Institute plan | AspenTimes.com
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Residents voice opinions on Rocky Mountain Institute plan

Steve Benson

The future of the Rocky Mountain Institute’s facility near Old Snowmass remained in limbo last night as the Pitkin County Planning & Zoning Commission opted to continue the issue to a later date. The public meeting, which lasted close to four hours, attracted dozens of residents who live near the grounds of the institute. The land is jointly owned by Windstar and RMI. The Rocky Mountain Institute, a globally recognized, nonprofit environmental think tank, wants to add a 15,000-square-foot building for office and conference space, approximately 12 units for employee housing and about 50 parking spaces. Those figures were scaled down following a meeting with the Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus last month.The majority of citizens who spoke at the meeting expressed their deep disapproval of the expansion, including the co-founder of RMI, Hunter Lovins. Lovins, who is no longer affiliated with RMI, called the project “a very bad idea.” “This is growth – everything RMI used to be against,” she said. “We promised we’d never change that land.”Folks, I’m ashamed to stand before you and have anything to do with this.”Lovins was backed by an audience that applauded her comments and claimed the project would forever ruin the rural area’s character. Increased traffic, light and noise pollution, and disruption of elk migration paths were all cited as factors that would ruin the character of the area. But others, like longtime local rancher Steve Child, spoke about RMI’s reputation, and referred to the area as more suburban than rural. “It’s no longer truly rural in character,” he said. He also wondered what could have happened to the land if it hadn’t been preserved by both Windstar and RMI over the past couple of decades. “They were here before most of us,” said Kristin Marsh, who lives in the area. The property was first purchased by musician John Denver, the founder of Windstar, in the late 1970s. In 1990, the National Wildlife Federation purchased half the land and became partners with Windstar, according to Denver’s brother, Ronald Deutschendorf. RMI purchased the land from the National Wildlife Federation with Denver in the mid-1990s, and the two joined forces to create the Windstar Land Conservancy. The size of RMI’s proposed development is less than 30 acres. The entire plot of land is in excess of 900 acres. Aside from RMI’s current facility, which includes a large tent used for special events, and a few other relatively tiny structures, Windstar and RMI have preserved all of the land from development. While Child wonders whether the size of the development is necessary, he believes the project should be approved “in a pared-down form.” But others feel it simply doesn’t fit the mold of a truly “rural area.” Several residents pointed to Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale as ideal alternative locations for the development. Tom Malloy, the consulting planner representing RMI, said he did not know if his clients would consider downsizing the development before the next meeting with the planning & zoning commission – the date of which hasn’t been set. Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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