Paul Andersen: Fair Game |

Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

Planting the Tree Farm development in El Jebel is a “Field of Dreams,” build-it-and-they-will come delusion. Our development-addicted local economy needs to wean itself off rapid growth, not embrace it.

The Tree Farm represents yet another assault on the livability of the Roaring Fork Valley as traffic, pollution, noise and urban congestion congeal in a dark cloud over a once pastoral landscape.

And please don’t be swayed by bluster about green development. A white paper recently published by Holy Cross Energy warns that new development will only negate energy efficiency gains by adding to the overall demand for energy and the long term output of carbon. Environmentally, it would be better to plant more trees than more houses.

El Jebel is already facing a tsunami of development approvals. Adding the Tree Farm to the potential inventory at Willits and Shadowrock would only exacerbate growth pains.

That’s the wrong direction for Basalt and Eagle County if planners choose to heed public concerns about rapid growth and urbanized densities.

In the empty excavations at El Jebel, dust devils are the only visible activity. Work has stopped because there’s no money to build. Nobody wants to extend credit on speculative growth. Digging more holes in the ground is not going to change that, nor will granting more approvals for future development, banked on the vague hope that the local real estate market will soar again like a phoenix. That bird has been plucked.

If everything already approved were built up in the next five years, the midvalley could gain over a thousand new residents. That means a thousand new vehicles and more demand on sewer, water, schools, roads, police and social services, all of which translates into reduced services or tax hikes.

The developer has included an “affordable” housing component, but I seriously doubt that the asking prices will be affordable to people struggling in the faltering resort economy.

The only outcome of dumping new homes on our stagnant real estate market will be a lowering of regional property values through overabundance.

And where are all of these new residents supposed to come from? They won’t be flocking here to compete for limited jobs, and they won’t be retiring here with their failed retirement accounts. Pushing growth at this time reveals the limited vision of its advocates. Throwing new growth at new limits is the wrong approach.

If the Tree Farm is approved, what are the benefits to the community? Other than short term employment for contractors and pie-in-the-sky profits for the developer, I’m not coming up with any.

Basalt and Eagle County need to get together on a rational vision for El Jebel by agreeing on a build-out plan. Growth can’t go on forever, especially when the existing population wants to retain small town values rather than urbanized landscapes like the big ugly boxes at Willits.

If Eagle County decides to approve the Tree Farm, then the county should put a time limit on the approval so it can’t be banked far into the future. Otherwise, the midvalley will be trapped by past, outmoded decisions, and that’s not a smart planning position.

When a forest becomes overgrown, it loses health and vitality. Trees need space, not overcrowding. The Tree Farm represents too much density for the health of the community.

So please bring your pruning shears to the public hearing on the Tree Farm this Thursday, March 19, at the Eagle County Community Center in El Jebel. It’s time for some proactive thinning.

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