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Sanders granted first OK

The Roaring Fork Valley took a step toward gaining a town Thursday night – and some say losing its soul.

After months of getting bashed by the valley’s town governments and a fair share of citizens, the Sanders Ranch development proposal won the first test that mattered.

The Garfield County Planning Commission determined in a 4-3 vote that the plan proposed by developer George Hanlon is compatible with the county’s comprehensive plan and it recommended granting the initial stage of approval, formally called sketch-plan approval.

“This is like no other design that I’ve seen come forward in Garfield County as a member of the commission,” said planning commission chairman Phil Vaughan, who supported the project.

Hanlon and his Sopris Development Group have proposed 300,000 square feet of retail shops, restaurants and offices along with 586 homes. The developer’s planners indicated the amount of housing would be reduced to 561 residences.

Sanders Ranch is 5 miles south of Glenwood Springs and 3 miles north of Carbondale, along Highway 82. It’s where the big red barn with U76 is located.

The plan will now advance to the Garfield County commissioners for their initial stage of review. While that vote is up in the air, Hanlon clearly scored a major victory Thursday by earning the planning commission’s support.

That support came despite fervent opposition from the town of Carbondale and city of Glenwood Springs. Representatives claimed Sanders Ranch would suck 20 percent of the towns’ sales-tax revenues.

Opposition was also voiced by the governments of Basalt, Snowmass Village and Aspen. Some Garfield County planning commission members said they cannot be concerned about the interests of those towns.

“This is Garfield County. This is not Glenwood Springs. This is not Carbondale,” said planning commissioner Cheryl Chandler, who supported the project. “We’re looking out for Garfield County.”

A similar view was voiced by board member Ray Schmahl. The amount of commercial and residential development “may not be favorable to Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, but we’re here on the behalf of Garfield County,” he said.

But planning commissioner Michelle Foster felt that looking out for Garfield County meant turning down the project at that location.

“It belongs somewhere else in Garfield County,” she said without suggesting where. “It’s just too much.”

Board member David Stover agreed. The proposal was heavy on “pretty pictures” but light on facts, he said. He wasn’t buying Sanders Ranch planners’ contention that the proposal represents “smart growth.”

“Smart growth is kind of an oxymoron,” said Stover. “It’s like military intelligence.”

They were joined in opposition by Herb Nelson, who said he supported Sanders Ranch’s commercial component, but felt there were too many homes.

Joining Vaughn, Chandler and Schmahl in support of Sanders Ranch’s sketch approval was Dominic Dodero.

The motion for approval included direction to require a grade-separated intersection at the Sanders Ranch entry road and Highway 82. That could be the valley’s first interstate-style intersection.

Hanlon wasn’t at the meeting to taste victory. He skipped Wednesday night’s meeting, as well.

His attorney, Jim Lochhead, explained that the review of a previous version of the Sanders Ranch project got too personal for the developer.

Hanlon’s first proposal featured 750,000 square feet of commercial space. It was rejected by the planning commission, so the developer withdrew his plan before the county commissioners’ vote.

Hanlon claimed at that point, roughly 18 months ago, that he had learned enough about what the community wanted to return with a proposal that would earn support.

A powerful citizens group called Roaring Crystal Alliance, which was instrumental in defeating the first proposal, opposes this plan as well. Critics claim the proposal is inappropriate because it creates urban sprawl in a rural area between two towns.

“They are proposing to solve the sprawl by having really, really big sprawl,” said Calvin Lee, an RCA leader.

Well over half of the speakers from the audience over the two nights criticized the project. However, it received significant support from a crowd dominated by ranchers and construction workers.

“Reasonable people will disagree over this issue,” acknowledged planning commission chairman Vaughn.


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