John Colson: The Fields in midvalley too dense for the neighborhood |

John Colson: The Fields in midvalley too dense for the neighborhood

John Colson
Hit & Run

Let me say from the get-go that I believe Temple Glassier and Charles Spickert, members of the Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission, are absolutely correct when they propose that the commission should take a renewed and much longer look at The Fields proposed development just west of the Summit Vista neighborhood in the midvalley area.

In fact, I’ll go further — the commission may need to rethink its entire midvalley master planning process, with an eye toward not turning the middle stretch of the Roaring Fork Valley into a smaller but equally urbanized version of the Interstate 70 corridor in Eagle County.

I know, I know, in some ways this is calling for the barn door to be closed after the horse already has escaped, in terms of existing urbanization of the area between Carbondale and Basalt.

But we could make things a lot worse than they are by continuing to approve whatever hair-brained, greedy scheme our development community comes up with, and The Fields, slated for a 19-acre livestock pasture near El Jebel, is just such a scheme.

To my mind, it is the job of the Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission members to not simply roll over for the developers and county planners who seem to have drank the Kool-Aid as far as never encountering a high-density development he didn’t like.

The planning commission, I guess I should explain, is an advisory body created by the Eagle Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to review and help deal with development proposals for that section of the Roaring Fork Valley that falls under Eagle County’s jurisdiction — basically, the zone around El Jebel and parts of Basalt and the Missouri Heights area.

It’s a tough job they have taken on, no one can dispute that, particularly since the county’s planning staff and the BOCC all seem to have been drinking from the same pitcher of the aforementioned Kool-Aid.

Why else would Eagle County appear to be dead set in favor of dense urbanization of the midvalley, with all of its attendant woes?

Perhaps the residents of Vail, Avon, Eagle and Gypsum (and all points between) like it when I-70 locks up into a nearly immobilized four-laned parking lot every now and then.

But I can say without hesitation that we in the Roaring Fork Valley do not like it when Highway 82, the sole artery for getting from Aspen to Glenwood Springs and the towns in between, gets into the same traffic-jammed predicament.

And projects such as The Fields will immeasurably worsen our traffic congestion, which in turn will mean more accidents, a lower index of safety for drivers and more air pollution.

We already have an occasional brown cloud hovering over the Roaring Fork; more houses means more cars, which inevitably increases air pollution.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which operates the valley-wide bus system, does its best to keep up with the surging flood of cars, but it’s an impossible task. How long will it be before some highway engineer in Denver analyzes our traffic counts and concludes that a four-laned Highway 82 is not enough, that we need six lanes of travel to handle the flow?

But, back to the planning commission and The Fields.

At a May 2013 commission meeting, Eagle County Planner Clifford Simonton, in response to a question, said that no Roaring Fork Valley residents had objected when the commission was considering a high-density approval for The Fields, but that was not true.

At least one adjacent landowner to The Fields’ site, documentary filmmaker Wayne Ewing, has produced an email string showing he submitted strenuous objections in correspondence with Simonton back in 2012, when the planning commission considered a request to upzone what was then known as the Rieser property but which would soon be targeted as The Fields.

According to news stories about the project, “scores” of neighbors objected to the project, resulting in the commission recommending the project be denied approval by the county in 2015, although the BOCC later voted to approve the project’s sketch plan.

One problem with the current project status is that, based on Simonton’s misstating the facts in 2013, a member of the planning commission cast the deciding vote to endorse the upzoning of the property from its historic zoning of one house per 2 acres (medium rural density), to as many as seven homes per acre (urban/suburban density).

That alone, coupled with the fact that things have changed drastically in the valley over the past five years, is sufficient reason for the planning commission to give another, much deeper look at the underlying questions at a meeting June 21.

I’m not saying Simonton did anything underhanded or unethical in his misstatement of the facts, though it certainly is a possibility given the high-tension nature of development question in this region.

But to avoid even the appearance of deliberately misleading the commissioners and the public about the depth of sentiment against The Fields high-density proposal, I’d say the commission’s duty is clear — re-examine that 2013 increase in density, and give neighbors a full and formal opportunity to be heard on the topic, then talk about cutting the density of the project, at least.

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