Tree Farm project in El Jebel heads to critical review
The Aspen Times
ANATOMY OF THE TREE FARM
Ace Lane has been seeking approvals for projects on his property since 2000. He is currently working on his fourth application, each larger than the prior proposal. Here’s the timeline:
*2000: Lane gets approval from Eagle County for 80,000 square feet of commercial space plus a hotel, and 27 residences. The approvals expire before he builds the project.
*2006: Lane applies for 245 residences and 93,000 square feet of commercial space. The Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission votes to deny the project. Lane pulls the application rather than go to a vote of the county commissioners.
*2009: Lane gets sketch plan approval for 319 residences and 96,375 square feet of commercial space. The project stalls during the recession but twice Eagle County extends his approvals.
*2014-15: Lane comes back to Eagle County for the second-round of approval for the application submitted in 2009. However, he applies to enlarge the project to up to 400 residences and 135,000 square feet of commercial space. The planning commission advisory vote is expected this fall and the county commissioners will begin review.
Ace Lane’s midvalley development proposal for as many as 400 residences and 135,000 square feet of commercial space is headed toward a critical part of its review Thursday.
The Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission is scheduled to hear the last of the project presentation for “approximately two hours” on Thursday, according to a statement by Eagle County government. “Public comment will take place immediately following the discussion.”
After public comment, the planning commission will identify outstanding issues that require additional review or resolution by Lane’s development team or the county staff. “If time permits, the commission may begin its deliberations,” the statement said.
The hearing will start at 4 p.m. at the Eagle County office building in El Jebel.
A memo from Eagle County planning staff member Scot Hunn to the commission suggested that another meeting will likely be necessary Oct. 8 to wrap up deliberations on the project. The planning commission makes advisory votes on land-use issues for the county commissioners.
Lane is seeking approval for the project on 71 acres of land he owns across Highway 82 from Whole Foods.
Eagle County has been swamped with comments about the proposal, with the vast majority in opposition. The public record includes about 40 comments urging denial of the application versus seven in support. In addition, opponents have written numerous letters to the editor to complain about the traffic and congestion the project would generate. Opponents are trying to rally people to go to Thursday’s meeting to offer public comment, according to letters to the editor.
Lane, through his company, Woody Ventures LLC, is seeking what is known as preliminary plan approval for his project, called the Tree Farm. Preliminary plan approval is the second stage of review.
The Tree Farm received the first-round approval, called sketch plan, in September 2009. Planning stopped during the recession and Lane received two extensions of the first-round approval.
He submitted materials in 2014 that triggered the second-round review. When the project was resurrected, it was nearly 20 percent larger. The number of residences increased from 319 to 400. The amount of proposed commercial space increased from 96,375 square feet to 134,558 square feet.
Overall, the project size increased from 489,194 square feet to 585,474 square feet. The applicant also decreased the amount of affordable housing in the proposal.
The Eagle County planning staff determined that the project didn’t have to go back to square one in the review process despite the changes.
In an email to The Aspen Times in December, Hunn wrote, “We do not believe that 1) the Preliminary Plan is a substantial departure — in proposed uses or the amount of residential or commercial square footage — from the concepts, ranges or types of uses identified and approved during Sketch Plan, or; 2) the Preliminary Plan deviates substantially from previous conditions of approval.”
Former Pitkin County Commissioner Joe Edwards, one of the architects of the county’s growth control system in the 1970s, is challenging that assertion.
Edwards, who is now a midvalley resident, said the preliminary plan review is legally intended to respond to issues identified in the sketch plan review — after the size of the project is established.
“The proposed large increase in the residential and commercial size of this development, and huge decrease in affordable housing and relocation of affordable housing to a pre-fab enclave adjacent to the highway, reveal the preliminary plan application is a very different housing and commercial plan than was approved at the Sketch Plan,” Edwards wrote.
David Marrs, a member of Lane’s team, previously said the project had to be changed to match post-recession market conditions.
Edwards said in his letter to the county there is no authority in Eagle County land-use regulations change the number of residential units, affordable housing and commercial space between the two stages of review.
“If the developer has decided that he no longer wishes to complete the project approved in the sketch plan, then he should file a new sketch plan application to request the units and amount of commercial space he now seeks which can be determined properly by a new sketch plan review,” Edwards wrote.