Guest commentary: Commissioners are an important aspect of local planning

Eagle County Board of Commissioners
Guest Column

Residents, business owners and government entities have a significant stake in shaping their community. As the Eagle County Board of Commissioners, we understand that local planning should never occur in a vacuum. We were elected as representatives, and we take that role very seriously.

The Eagle County Planning Department has received a preliminary plan application for the Tree Farm Planned Unit Development at the Lane Property in El Jebel. We have heard concerns about our process for obtaining input on this file — a standard process with legal implications — and believe it could use some explaining.

As elected representatives, we want to hear from you. If you have ideas about how to improve county services or ideas for collaboration or if there are specific program needs in your area, please pick up the phone. We also expect you to help shape your community, including its land use. Both formal and informal methods for this exist, including Planning Commission review, a master-planning process, an open space committee and public hearings on local planning files. For a commissioner, a cup of coffee with constituents is also a desirable way to understand the local perspective, except, that is, in the case of land use files.

Land-use files are a different animal and are tricky for elected officials who want to have an open-door policy. Quite simply, we cannot treat land-use files as we would any other community issue. During review of land-use applications, county commissioners play a quasi-judicial role. We become like a courtroom judge, where all evidence must either be presented in a public forum or otherwise become part of the public record, such as through written correspondence. For example, if you had to go to traffic court, you wouldn’t want your neighbor bumping into the judge at the grocery store and telling him that you’re a bad driver. It’s a silly analogy, but we use it to make the point that legally, we can no more have discussions on a specific planning file outside our hearing room than a judge can outside the courtroom. If such communication occurs, the commissioner may have to recuse herself from the file.

The Tree Farm proposal is a mixed-use, transit-oriented development on 72 acres, located directly adjacent to Highway 82 in El Jebel. As with all land-use files, there will be multiple opportunities for community members, business owners, local governments and all other interested parties to offer input on the application. Next steps include review of the application by the Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission, which will formulate recommendations for the Eagle County Board of Commissioners. The board will ultimately approve, approve with conditions or deny the application. Dates have not yet been set for these public hearings; however, it is likely both the Planning Commission and the board will require multiple meetings to review the application.

Public notification of all hearings will take place through local media outlets as well as through the county’s website and social media pages. Opportunities for public input will be provided throughout the course of the hearings, and written comments will be accepted from all stakeholders at any time during the process.

Information on the proposed Tree Farm Planned Unit Development, including the application, the schedule and the process for public input, referral-agency comments and staff reports, is available at, under “Active Land Use Applications.” We invite and encourage your participation in this and other public processes. For more information on the Tree Farm Planned Unit Development, contact our Planning Department at 970-328-8746. Or feel free to share your thoughts on other topics by emailing all three commissioners at