Paul Andersen: Midvalley is condemned to gridlock
November 26, 2017
The irony of the "Tree Farm" development starts with the name. The original "tree farm" will be a faint vestige amid clear-cut pavement, despite landscaping promises.
Subdivisions are often named for what they obliterate. "Elk Run" is where elk no longer run. "The Wilds" is anything but wild. "The Fields" will parody itself.
If unchecked, the Tree Farm development will do to the midvalley what the Glenwood Springs bridge project did to lower Highway 82 — create a traffic plug in the chokepoint of the Roaring Fork Valley.
Even so, Eagle County recently approved the Tree Farm, affirming a comment made last week by Raul Gawrys, one of two deposed Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commissioners, both of whom deserve credit for holding developers to high standards.
The Aspen Times reported that Gawrys "feels Eagle County treats the Highway 82 corridor like the Interstate 70 corridor. He said the Roaring Fork Valley might have a different view of development than most people in the main part of Eagle County."
Highway 82 already carries an interstate traffic load. Magnify that at the Tree Farm and at Blue Lake for The Fields, and traffic clots will cause vehicular thrombosis, with backups for miles.
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Gawrys is correct when he suggests that the Roaring Fork Valley has a different view of development than Eagle County, whose jurisdiction covers a large chunk of the midvalley. Eagle County seems intent on homogenizing that diverse view with development densities that will make the I-70 corridor look rural by comparison.
Tree Farm developers vow that proximity to bus stops and encouragement of public transit will avoid midvalley congestion. Forget it! Observing with awe and trepidation during the Glenwood bridge fiasco long lines of gridlocked cars — one person per vehicle — made it obvious that commuters are not going to get out of their cars, even when confronted with mind-numbing stagnation.
Eagle County is clearly in the driver's seat on the future of the midvalley as the town of Basalt seems impotent to manage growth in its own backyard. This downhill slide began with the annexation of Willits and approvals for the big box blight that spawns monolithic shoeboxes across a once rural landscape.
Willits developer Mariner Real Estate recently admitted that it has overbuilt commercial space — duh! Then Mariner had the temerity to request that Basalt simply convert commercial approvals into residential density, as if there's no difference.
Commercial space generates a fraction of the impacts of residential, but the developer assumes the town will conveniently accede to its request. Otherwise, Willits will remain pockmarked with excavation craters in an ugly, unfinished wasteland on which Basalt stuck out its neck like a Thanksgiving turkey.
Eagle County's development fever at the Tree Farm will add to real estate overstock, which will either crash the market or surrender the midvalley to the dual impacts of gridlock and infrastructure overload from rising demands on police, medical, schools, roads and social services.
And who will pay these socioeconomic costs? Existing taxpayers, that's who. We taxpayers will underwrite excessive development, short-sighted land-use approvals, misguided growth and insatiable development. We taxpayers will foot the bill with hopes that the tax base will catch up, which it never does.
Another choke point will be in Basalt's Southside neighborhood where traffic already stacks up at the stoplight at Highway 82 — the only way in and out. The just-completed pedestrian underpass might have been engineered for cars, but it's too late now.
If proposed developments are undertaken at Southside, the backups will stretch to Basalt High School. Long delays, with scores of idling cars, will reduce quality of life for Southside residents who have staked their futures on smart development. Gridlock will also reduce the viability of businesses there.
Basalt needs to stand up to Eagle County on the Tree Farm or forfeit quality control of the midvalley. Basalt should deny Mariner's plea for residential conversion. Basalt must realistically weigh Southside traffic in light of future development approvals.
If the midvalley cares, resident voters must support rational limits to growth, refuse to accept gridlock, protect against infrastructure overwhelm, and tell developers: not here, not now, not at these costs.
Paul Andersen's column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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