Two commissioners tip their hands on El Jebel development |

Two commissioners tip their hands on El Jebel development

EL JEBEL – The Eagle County commissioner who is the direct representative of Basalt and El Jebel appears to be the swing vote on Ace Lane’s midvalley development proposal.

Commission chairwoman Sara Fisher holds the key vote after the other two commissioners tipped their hands in a public meeting this week. Commissioner Jon Stavney said he believes Lane has exceeded the requirements for the first round of review, called sketch plan approval. But Commissioner Peter Runyon, a champion of slow growth, indicated he wasn’t so sure.

Runyon, who has been elected twice after campaigning with a slow growth theme, sounded sympathetic to Basalt officials’ argument that Lane’s project should be reviewed by the town and processed through their growth management regulations.

“Somebody said growth is inevitable. Maybe that’s true but the rate of growth is debatable,” Runyon said at a public hearing Tuesday night.

Lane’s proposal is for 319 residences and about 96,000 square feet of commercial space. His property is across Highway 82 from the Willits Town Center.

The Basalt Town Council has pressed Eagle County to deny the project so that Lane will apply to the town. Basalt officials contend that a project like that will have significant impacts on the town, so it should be reviewed by the town.

The council approved regulations this year to allow approvals for only 32 free-market residences per year. That could force Lane to phase his project over a longer period than he wants. Affordable housing is exempt from the growth controls. Lane’s project has 169 affordable housing units, or 53 percent of the total residences.

Lane’s development team argues that the project proposes density where it can best be supported, in the valley floor. Approving Lane’s project might prevent continued suburban sprawl in areas like Missouri Heights, said Paul Spencer, president of Bonsai Communities, a development firm working on Lane’s project.

Runyon didn’t buy the idea that approving a high-density development in the valley floor would automatically prevent suburban sprawl. Growth might occur in both places, he said.

“This clearly would be an excellent development, if it was in a vacuum,” Runyon said.

In probably the strongest indication of how he feels about the project, Runyon said it was “not necessarily a given” that Basalt would deny the project if it takes over the review.

Stavney followed Runyon’s comments with a clear endorsement of the project. He said he could not vote against the project at the first level of review when it has clearly meets the criteria established by various land-use plans used for the review.

Stavney told Lane’s team that it looked to him that they have “flown over the bar” established by growth regulations. He said the concerns by Basalt officials and some members of the public over regional impacts of the project can be addressed, though he didn’t cite specific examples. He also discounted opponents’ concerns that the project will add 3,700 vehicles trips to Highway 82 per day.

“I have a tough time with the concerns with the trip count,” Stavney said. He explained that the project won’t really add all of those vehicles to the road. The project will provide housing for some people who are likely driving Highway 82 already, he noted. Therefore, it might be eliminating some longer trips already occurring on the road, like commutes from New Castle to Aspen.

Stavney did question the need for all the commercial space.

Fisher was more cautious with her comments, sticking to questions rather than making observations. She defended the lengthy review process, which was criticized by some of Lane’s supporters, as necessary to do a thorough job.

Fisher lives in the Gypsum area. While the commissioner elections are open to all county voters and they represent all county residents, the commissioners also have direct representation of specific districts. Fisher’s district includes the Roaring Fork Valley part of Eagle County, so this vote will be especially important for her.

Fisher indicated the commissioners will likely vote on Lane’s proposal at their next meeting, on Sept. 1. A project needs three approvals for advance.

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