Sanders Ranch development plans drawing little opposition this time |

Sanders Ranch development plans drawing little opposition this time

Allyn Harvey

Very little, if any, opposition appears to be forming to the latest proposal for developing Sanders Ranch near Glenwood Springs.

The quiet that has marked two recent public meetings on the latest proposal to develop the 280-acre ranch is in sharp contrast to the fury that filled public meeting rooms last winter, as the initial proposal made its way through the review process in Garfield County.

That may have to do with the fact that it has been scaled back considerably. But even if things are a little calmer this time, it didn’t stop the Pitkin County Commissioners from making some pointed comments about the new plan at yesterday’s work session.

As part of an “intergovernmental agreement” between ruling bodies in the Roaring Fork Valley, neighboring counties are invited to comment on all significant development proposals. Pitkin County’s comments will be taken into account by the Garfield County Commissioners when they deliberate on the proposal.

The new Sanders Ranch plan calls for 48 houses, 168 condominiums and townhomes and a relatively small 14-room lodge. Much of the ranch would be converted from cow pastures and hay fields to an 18-hole, members-only golf course.

“It would be difficult to mobilize the same number of people even though the latest proposal is not very thrilling, and we don’t really need any more upper end housing or another golf course,” said Calvin Lee, a Glenwood Springs attorney who serves as president of the Roaring Crystal Alliance.

Last year, the Roaring Crystal Alliance riled up opposition to the plan for 300,000 square feet of commercial development and more than 550 new residences along Highway 82.

Public Counsel of the Rockies, a nonprofit law firm in Aspen, also stepped into the fight, hiring legal counsel from Denver to help defeat the proposal.

The developer termed the development “infill,” noting that it is located between Aspen Glen, a residential golf course on the upvalley side, and the outskirts of Glenwood Springs, which includes a mix of residential and light industrial, on the downvalley side.

But the Garfield County Commissioners didn’t buy that line. They voted 3-0 to deny the application after about 500 people, most of whom opposed the plan, showed up at the public hearing last February.

“What upset people was the huge amount of commercial that was proposed,” Lee said. “What they’re proposing now is mostly residential.”

Lee said the Roaring Crystal Alliance wasn’t likely to make any noise about the new proposal, which is tentatively scheduled to begin the public hearing process before the Garfield County Planning and Zoning Commission in March. He noted that the commercial element has been nearly eliminated, and the proposal complies with the Garfield County comprehensive plan.

“The Roaring Crystal Alliance’s success depends on being reasonable and not opposing everything we don’t like,” Lee said.

Public Counsel attorney Karen Gustafson said so far no one has asked for legal help, and she wasn’t sure whether the organization would act on its own.

Garfield County Planning Director Mark Bean confirmed that the proposal now complies “in a broad sense” with the county comprehensive plan, which calls for high density residential development in that area of the Roaring Fork Valley.

But the Pitkin County Commissioners nevertheless found some things they didn’t like when they reviewed the application on Tuesday.

One is the fact that the development will increase demand for bus service from the Roaring Fork Transit Agency. That, in and of itself, wouldn’t normally be a problem. But Garfield County has steadfastly refused over the years to contribute money toward public transit, which makes RFTA officials reluctant to add service for new development outside Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

The commissioners were also concerned that the bus stop planned for the affordable housing section of Sanders Ranch requires users to cross Highway 82 without the benefit of a traffic signal.

They also urged Garfield County to require the developer to build an adequate amount of employee housing for the project. The current plan calls for 10 percent of the project to be priced affordably, although Garfield County has no affordable housing program to keep prices down.

“We’re asking them to really look at the planning for the multifamily housing portion of the project,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Jack Hatfield.

The commissioners also raised issue with the plan to designate the golf course as open space.

“The community’s needs may be better served by undeveloped open space,” reads a preliminary draft of the comment letter. “The golf course is a commercial endeavor rather than a community open space asset. It is a monoculture dependent upon non-native grass species, and it requires an enormous amount of water for maintenance.”

The golf course was also an issue for the Glenwood Springs City Council, which commented on the application last month. The City Council urged the developer to open the course to the public at times, instead of reserving it for the exclusive use of Sanders Ranch residents and golf club members.

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