Tree farm backers to sweeten pot for Basalt? | AspenTimes.com

Tree farm backers to sweeten pot for Basalt?

Midvalley residents gave a generally warm reception last night to the idea of creating a special taxing district to build sports and recreation facilities at the Mount Sopris Tree Farm in El Jebel.

But a handful of speakers at a public meeting held to discuss the idea warned that a property-tax hike could be a tough sell for some residents without additional work by organizers. About 40 people attended the meeting.

Organizers of what’s being called the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District want to ask voters in November to increase property taxes to allow issuance of $5.1 million in bonds.

The funds would be used to build recreation amenities, such as soccer and ball fields, and tennis and basketball courts, as well as passive uses, such as picnic areas and playgrounds.

The proposal would raise taxes by about $75 per year on a house with an assessed value of $300,000.

Doug Pratte of Basalt warned that residents of that town might feel unfairly burdened by a property tax for tree farm facilities when they already subsidize the town’s recreation program and the pool – which are used by kids throughout the midvalley region.

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“We support a lot of services of the region,” said Pratte, who is active in Basalt civic issues. He suggested a way must be found to prevent making Basalt residents pay twice for recreation facilities and programs.

Basalt resident Peter Frey said that he views the tree farm special-district proposal as a “no-brainer” for residents in the densely populated neighborhoods surrounding the property. The tree farm is bounded by Sopris Village and Summit Vista while Blue Lake and El Jebel Mobile Home Park are just across Highway 82.

People who live farther away might be more reluctant to tax themselves for the facilities, Frey said. He noted that 56 percent of voters in the proposed recreation district live east of the Emma curve – three miles and more from the tree farm.

Frey also urged the board to sweeten the proposal by including amenities for a broader range of people – such as pedestrian trails throughout the midvalley.

“It would be very useful to put yourself in the position of the people who are going to vote,” said Frey, another civic leader in Basalt. “Not everybody has children who are going to play baseball or soccer. In fact, a small percentage will.”

Mark Fuller, a consultant for the Crown Mountain proposal, acknowledged that many people are weary of additional tax hikes. However, it is impossible to add amenities that many people seem to want without some tax hike, he said.

Finding the balance in the amount that people are willing to pay for a worthwhile list of amenities is the challenge, but one the organizers felt they found, Fuller said.

Even if the park and recreation district proposal fails at the ballot, midvalley residents will receive some amenities by the end of the year. Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone said that government is putting $800,000 in cash and in-kind services into the tree farm.

The initial commitment was for $75,000 by the county, Stone said. But to take advantage of cost savings from performing related work all at one time, the county kept adding to the list of work it would perform.

The road and bridge staff rough-graded the entire area designated for athletic fields, did final grading for one soccer field and one ball field, as well as irrigating and seeding those two fields. A soccer field should be ready for use by fall.

Stone said he strongly supports approval of the district, but if it fails the county will maintain the facilities until another proposal passes.

The county also constructed a community center and administration building on the corner of the tree farm closest to the El Jebel intersection. The meeting to discuss the proposed taxing district was the first public meeting in the new facility. County offices, such as the sheriff substation and clerk and recorder office, are moving to their new digs now.

The proposed recreation district would stretch from Old Snowmass to the Eagle-Garfield County line, not to Catherine’s Store as reported Wednesday.

The organizers have proposed switching the name of the park from the Mount Sopris Tree Farm to a unique alternative in honor of the broad peak called the Crown, which dominates the view between El Jebel and Mount Sopris.

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