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Supporters of midvalley recreation center respond to proposal’s critics

Janet Urquhart/Aspen Times fileCrown Mountain Park in El Jebel could be home to a recreation center, though the size of the envisioned facility has drawn criticism.
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EL JEBEL – Proponents of a midvalley recreation center are urging voters to keep an open mind about the proposal even though it was widely condemned by elected officials from Basalt and Pitkin County last week.

The Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District’s board of directors and a citizens’ group promoting the recreation center maintain that the proposal they have worked on for several years has many redeeming qualities, said Mark Fuller, a consultant to Crown Mountain.

The first phase of the projects has 61,000 square feet of space that features several amenities that surveys show are in demand by midvalley residents, according to Fuller. That includes 4,400 square feet of meeting and party rooms; a dance studio; 14,000 square feet of indoor swimming pools; plus a full gym and fitness facilities.

Classes would provide training for everything from first aid to scuba diving, cooking to kayaking, and martial arts to computer programing. In short, the first phase of the facility would include something that appeals to just about everyone, according to Fuller.

Crown Mountain is scheduled to enter the Eagle County land-use review process in May. If approvals are granted, the district will ask voters to approve a bond issuance for $25 million to $30 million in November. The bonds would be paid back through a property tax increase.

Fuller said rec center proponents aren’t discounting comments made by the Basalt Town Council and Pitkin County commissioners, but they don’t think the remarks should frame the discussion, either.

“We think the voters should be the ultimate arbiters,” Fuller said.

Basalt and Pitkin County officials weighed in because they were invited by Eagle County to submit referral comments on the recreation center proposal. Their comments won’t necessarily influence the Eagle County commissioners’ decision.

Basalt officials panned the prospect as too big, too costly and poorly located in Crown Mountain Park. Some Pitkin County officials questioned if the center is needed.

Fuller countered Tuesday by saying that 10,000 midvalley residents must currently drive at least 40 miles round-trip to the nearest indoor swimming facilities in Aspen and Glenwood Springs and at least 20 miles to Carbondale to the closest indoor recreation facility.

“A midvalley facility would take traffic off the roads that now travels to recreation centers elsewhere in the valley,” Fuller said.

As for criticism of the size, Fuller said a facility that offers a variety of activities is inherently large. The Aspen Recreation Center is 83,000 square feet; the Glenwood Springs Community Center is 65,000 square feet.

While the first phase of the proposed midvalley facility is 61,000 square feet, later phases could boost the size to 85,000 square feet. However, later phases that include a sheet of ice and tennis facilities will be subject to separate votes on funding and separate design reviews.

Basalt officials said Crown Mountain would probably make a mistake asking voters for a property tax hike when the economy remains sluggish. Voters won’t be in a giving mood this year, according to critics.

Fuller counters that surveys have indicated a solid majority of constituents will vote to approve the facility. Crown Mountain intends to ask for a property tax increase for operations and construction of the recreation center. That would add an estimated 4.815 mills to the special district’s existing 2 mills. If approved, the total property tax bill for Crown Mountain would be $232 per year for each $500,000 of house value, according to the district’s calculations.

Some elected officials expressed doubts that the recreation center could operate without more of an operating subsidy than $500,000 annually. Fuller said user fees will be charged and operators will aggressively seek other revenue sources. The district doesn’t feel it is under-estimating the costs, he said.

“To object to the estimated tax burdens on the basis that they might double in the future is pure speculation without any basis in fact,” he said.

The Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission is scheduled to begin review May 19, but Fuller said Crown Mountain will likely ask for a postponement to give it more time to respond to concerns. The Crown Mountain district’s board of directors will meet Wednesday evening to determine if any refinements in its proposal are necessary.

The criticisms from Basalt and Pitkin County were difficult to take as constructive criticism, Fuller said.

“Those don’t really lend themselves to refining the plan. They are about abandoning the plan,” he said.

For example, some Basalt council members said the site isn’t pedestrian-friendly because it is too far away from the nearest bus stop. Fuller said the preferred site was picked after numerous public meetings. That site was chosen because it interferes the least amount with neighboring subdivisions and eats into the park land the least amount.

The district’s preferred site is west of the Eagle County office building and community center, near the main intersection in El Jebel. The recreation facility would be on the north end of the park, along Valley Road. Parking for the facility would be between the facility and the ball fields in Crown Mountain Park.

The district claims that reworking the site plan would cost another $150,000. Fuller said in public meetings and repeated Tuesday that the district would be reluctant to switch sites.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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