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Eagle County plan for heavy equipment storage concerns recreation district

Midvalley officials are ecstatic that they will finally be able to open a 50-acre sports complex, recreational center and park next summer after more than 12 years of planning.They’re just a little nervous about who might move in next door in their El Jebel neighborhood, however.Eagle County is contemplating building a road and bridge facility at the old tree nursery, adjacent to where the Crown Mountain district will soon have two baseball diamonds, three soccer fields, tennis courts, dog parks, picnic shelters and playgrounds. The county would store its snow plows, dump trucks and other heavy equipment there.”We are aware of it, and we have a number of concerns,” said Mark Fuller, a consultant to the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District.General compatibility of the two uses is the biggest concern, he said. Right now, the only existing route to the potential site for the road-and-bridge facility is over the road recently carved along the northern end of the park and through a parking lot.The recreation district also contends that the site the county is eyeing was envisioned during years of planning for uses more compatible with the park – not a storage yard and maintenance shop for heavy equipment. Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone, whose district includes Basalt and El Jebel, countered that officials have always been clear that the county could use the old tree farm for a wide range of public purposes. He believes a road and bridge facility falls within the county’s vision.The wording isn’t so clear-cut in a congressional act that allowed the transfer of the old tree farm from federal government hands to Eagle and Pitkin counties (see related story).The counties teamed in 1994 to trade 1,307 acres of mining claims to the federal government in return for 128 acres at the U.S. Forest Service’s tree nursery in El Jebel. The congressional act included specific language on permissible uses for the property once the land swap was complete.The park and sports complex became reality in November 2002, when midvalley voters approved a property tax for a $5.13 million bond issue to build the park on some of the tree farm land leased from the county.The recreation district didn’t lease all the tree farm land, and Eagle County is now working on a conceptual plan for the road-and-bridge facility. No size for the proposal has been released yet to the public. County officials want something specific that midvalley residents can review before holding any public comment on the project.Meanwhile, a lot of rumors have circulated about the plan, according to Stone and county communications director Justin Finestone. Some people fear that “trucks are going to be rolling through the soccer fields. Obviously that’s not true,” Finestone said.The county hopes not to even use the same access. But even if an alternative cannot be found, sharing the road isn’t necessarily a problem, Stone said.”We do have safe drivers in our trucks,” he said.Once the county creates a conceptual plan, there will be public meetings with the county commissioners. For the formal review, the project will only go before the Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission, a volunteer committee that typically advises the elected commissioner on land-use issues.The project is facing what could be an abbreviated review because it matches the uses contemplated for the site when a master plan was created, according to Stone. “I don’t see it as a major change,” he said.Finestone and Stone said it’s not a case of the county giving itself preferential treatment.Fuller said he hopes the county’s review process will allow the public to have some meaningful input into the project.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.Congressional actdefines tree farm usesEagle County appears to be making a questionable interpretation of a congressional act that allowed a land swap for the U.S. Forest Service’s old tree farm in El Jebel.When Congress approved the trade in 1994, it defined how Eagle and Pitkin counties could use the land they acquired.”It is the intention of Congress that any lands and water rights conveyed to the Counties pursuant to this Act shall be retained by the Counties and used solely for public recreation and recreational facilities, open space, fairgrounds, and such other public purposes as do not significantly reduce the portion of such lands in open space,” the act reads.If there is any violation of the conditions the land would revert back to the federal government.Negotiators for the county and federal government agreed that the total square footage of buildings at the tree farm property can never exceed the square footage of old Forest Service buildings on the site at the time of the swap.Eagle County’s proposed road-and-bridge facility won’t exceed the allowable square footage. The question is, does that use fall within the intended public purposes? It all depends on the interpretation of the phrase “such other public purposes.”One interpretation could be that the public purposes should be such as those listed: recreation and recreational facilities, open space and fairgrounds.Eagle County’s interpretation allows a broader range of public facilities. Commissioner Tom Stone said the county always intended to use the site for a road-and-bridge facility.- by Scott Condon


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