Size of El Jebel project catches board’s attention |

Size of El Jebel project catches board’s attention

EL JEBEL ” A midvalley planning commission had trouble Thursday swallowing the size of a proposed development for 319 residences and 95,000 square feet of commercial space in El Jebel.

The Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission delayed a decision until March 19 so developer Ace Lane can provide more information on the impacts of his plan. Lane wants to build the Tree Farm project across Highway 82 from the Willits Town Center.

Commission members indicated after a presentation that they were impressed by the energy efficiency of the proposal and its transit-oriented design. But they also wanted further justification for the size.

“The size of this project is large. It’s not county development, it’s town development,” said planning commission member Temple Glassier.

The commission, which makes recommendations to the Eagle County commissioners on land-use matters, voted 5-0 to table the application so Lane can provide an analysis to show the fiscal impact on local governments; a rudimentary market study on demand; greater details on traffic generation; and potential impacts on the school district.

About 50 midvalley residents attended the meeting in El Jebel, and roughly one dozen offered formal comments. The majority of the speakers were concerned about the size.

Jonathan Lowsky of Basalt said adding 900 to 1,200 residents in the midvalley would have too many adverse effects, like traffic and crowding at places like the grocery store. “It think this is way too many people to put in the midvalley area at this time,” he said.

Another speaker warned that the midvalley is already approved for more development than it can absorb at this tough economic time. He noted that construction on the Shadowrock luxury townhouses and the Willits Town Center is frozen because of financing issues. “Big holes in the ground ” that’s what you’ve got,” he said. “How many empty places do you need?”

But the project also had its backers. Bob Woodward of Basalt, who introduced himself as a retired developer, said Lane’s project could add a much-needed business spark in a tough time. Approval of the project would create hundreds of construction jobs and then permanent jobs at restaurants and shops, Woodward said.

Amanda Murray of Glenwood Springs praised the project for adding so much desperately needed affordable housing. The Tree Farm project consists of 169 affordable housing units, or 53 percent of the total. Of that amount, 128 units would have deed restrictions that set caps on sales prices and annual appreciation.

“If the developer is going to set a precedent, it’s a good one,” Murray said.

The town of Basalt chose not to play a substantive role in the debate. Eagle County and the developer sought comments from the town government on the project.

Basalt’s official position was that Lane should apply to the town rather than Eagle County for approval since the project will have such a great impact on the town. Mayor Leroy Duroux explained that the council majority didn’t want the town planning staff to prepare the town’s official comments. Instead council members want a joint meeting with the county commissioners so they can review the project and offer comments.

The planning commission will be forced to make its recommendation before that joint meeting occurs, so Basalt will miss an opportunity to influence that board’s vote.

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