Tree farm office gets vital endorsement from planners |

Tree farm office gets vital endorsement from planners

Eagle County’s proposal for an office building at the Mt. Sopris Tree Farm earned an important nod of approval Thursday evening. The Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission voted 3-0 to recommend approval of the facility despite the objections of the Basalt town government and the concerns of a handful of citizens.P&Z chairman Gary Ross said he saw the office building as an important step in achieving a more important community goal – developing athletic fields and recreational facilities at the 123-acre tree farm in El Jebel.Without approving the office, Ross said, “there’s never going to be something that jumpstarts” the recreational facilities. “Can you use the office building project to get something else you want?” he asked rhetorically.If the county builds the office, it would provide at least some of the infrastructure needed for the recreational facilities, such as an entrance road and parking lot, Ross noted.Eagle County submitted a plan, to itself, this spring to build a nearly 15,000-square-foot office building in the northeast corner of the tree farm.County officials said they need to consolidate their offices in the Roaring Fork Valley and quit throwing money away in rent.Pitkin County has reserved an additional 5,000 square feet in the office building. That space is being applied for, although it may be years before Pitkin County can afford to add it.Eagle County will build its office, if approved, next year.The application also includes proposals for numerous recreational facilities, including: two soccer fields, one baseball diamond, one softball diamond, two volleyball courts, one playground, two tennis courts, two basketball courts, a BMX court and an outdoor skateboard area.Other recreation amenities would include: picnic shelters, a concession stand with bathrooms, pedestrian and bike paths and parking lots.But there’s no guarantee those facilities will be built even if the office building is approved. Eagle County officials said they cannot fund recreational amenities. Therefore, proponents of those facilities want to form a special taxing district. Midvalley residents will likely vote on the proposal in November 2001.P&Z member Bob Schultz said he was enthused to see the tree farm’s development for community uses was finally on track.”The whole thing looks great to me,” he said. “I’m happy we’re this far along.”The debate over what should be built there has been happening – and sometimes raging – since 1994. That’s when the counties teamed to acquire the site in a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service.The Forest Service used to operate a tree farm on the site. The name has stuck even though operations ceased in the mid-1980s.P&Z member Gary Ferguson said he preferred to see the office building located elsewhere at the tree farm or off-site.The town of Basalt also expressed that preference. Mayor Rick Stevens said town officials would welcome a chance to work with the county commissioners to find an alternative site within the town’s boundaries.The town planning commission’s official letter to Eagle County on the project stated that high-level development wasn’t contemplated on the tree farm in Basalt’s master plan.”The Commission’s position on the referral is that this site should not be compromised by urban-scale development such as an office complex as proposed,” the letter saidConcerns were also lodged by audience members about the additional traffic that would be generated by the office building. The main intersection at El Jebel and on Valley Road is already overwhelmed at peak traffic times.”Turning in there at night and sometimes even during the daytime is like playing chicken,” said P&Z member Ferguson.The P&Z advisory vote for approval gets forwarded to the county commissioners for their June 19 meeting.P&Z members and audience members said the county commissioners should hold that meeting in Basalt or El Jebel rather than at the courthouse in Eagle.However, no county officials present at the meeting had the authority to agree to that request.

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