Sanders Ranch proposal touted as `smart growth’ | AspenTimes.com
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Sanders Ranch proposal touted as `smart growth’

Although the Sanders Ranch development proposal has drawn opposition from every town in the valley and a powerful citizens group, its planner claimed last night that the critics simply don’t recognize “smart growth.”

Planner Mark Johnson, an owner of the Civitas planning firm of Denver, told the Garfield County Planning Commission that growth-control efforts that started in Aspen in 1973 and spread throughout the Roaring Fork Valley have failed.

“I don’t believe our policies are working,” said Johnson. “When I drive [through the valley] I see sprawl.”

Strip commercial development and residential sprawl plagues the entire valley floor from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, he noted.

So Johnson and Aspen-based land-use planner Stan Clauson have proposed what they see as a more responsible type of growth at the 280-acre Sanders Ranch. They want to build what is essentially a new town between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs on Highway 82.

The planners, who represent developer George Hanlon and his Sopris Development Group, have proposed 300,000 square feet of retail shops, restaurants and offices along with 586 residences. The plan is appropriate for the site, claimed Hanlon attorney Jim Lochhead, because it’s well-planned, offers a diverse mix of housing types and meets critical community needs by providing jobs, services and housing.

Johnson said the project fits the criteria of “smart growth” first encouraged by former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer and now by his successor, Bill Owens.

“Smart growth calls for compact development in the right places,” said Johnson. He and Hanlon’s other consultants labeled the project a “rural village.”

Opponents labeled it an atrocity.

“I don’t think it’s smart to have growth in an area that’s currently rural,” said Suzy Ellison.

She said nothing much has changed from Hanlon’s initial proposal to build about 705,000 square feet of commercial space and 500 homes. The Garfield County Planning Commission recommended denial of that project, spurring Hanlon to pull his application and start anew.

Snowmass Village Town Councilman Jack Hatfield said his board was urging denial of this proposal as well.

“This isn’t smart growth. This is growth for the benefit of the few at the expense of many,” said Hatfield.

Representatives of the town governments of Basalt and Carbondale also voiced opposition.

The common theme among critics is that development is more appropriate and is being accommodated in the valley’s existing towns. Bob Schultz, a leader of the Roaring Crystal Alliance, noted that Carbondale is encouraging commercial development on the 22-acre CRMS property along Highway 133; Glenwood is entertaining a large development application on a ranch in West Glenwood; and Basalt is reviewing the Willits proposal for even more commercial development than Sanders Ranch.

The definition of smart growth is to place it in existing towns, Schultz charged.

Sanders Ranch, he said, “is not smart growth, it’s developmentally disabled growth. It’s irrational growth.”

Taking the debate from philosophical to concrete, Schultz alleged that Sanders Ranch by itself would generate more vehicle trips on Highway 82 than currently drive by that site now. In addition, the development would send 8,000 vehicles into Glenwood Springs each day.

“Is there anyone who thinks Glenwood can handle another 8,000 cars per day?” Schultz asked.

Traffic would represent only part of the damage that Glenwood and Carbondale would suffer from Sanders Ranch, according to a representative of a Denver firm called THK, hired by the towns to research the economic effects.

Both towns would have about 20 percent of their sales-tax revenues sucked out of them by Sanders Ranch’s retail and commercial space, the consultant said. He claimed Sanders Ranch needed only 60,000 square feet of retail and commercial space to adequately serve its residents.

The debate attracted dozens of speakers on both sides of the issue. Public comment was continued until 6 p.m. tonight at the Garfield County Courthouse.

After public comment, the debate will be turned over to the planning commissioners, who will make a recommendation to the county commissioners.


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