Eagle commissioners approve Tree Farm project 2-1

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
A crowd packed the chambers at the Eagle County office building in El Jebel to debate the Tree Farm project Monday night.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

The Eagle County commissioners approved the controversial Tree Farm project in El Jebel by a 2-1 vote Monday night after a five-hour hearing.

Commissioners Jill Ryan and Jeanne McQueeney voted to approve the project. Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry voted against it.

Developer Ace Lane received the second and vital approval for his project, which includes 340 residences and nearly 135,000 square feet of commercial space. The site is across Highway 82 from Whole Foods.

The proposal faced widespread opposition for the growth impacts it will create, including more traffic. But proponents said it would provide affordable and “attainable” housing.

Critics also claimed the project was a moving target. Lane and his team changed the application substantially from the first-round approval until this current, second round.

Eagle County received close to 300 comments on the project. The vast majority were against the project, but supporters also rallied to its defense Monday.

“As anybody can see, the community is not of one voice. The pubic vision is unclear, at least to me,” Chandler-Henry said.

She said she couldn’t vote for the project because the changes were too great. For example, the amount of commercial space grew substantially between the first and second round of the project, she noted.

McQueeney countered that the changes created a better project. The amount of commercial space is “reasonable,” she said, and the project adds to the attainable-housing stock in the valley.

“I do believe it is in conformance to what the community was looking for,” McQueeney said.

Ryan also credited the developer’s team for the changes.

“In summary, I think it’s a much better plan,” she said.

Ryan specifically credited the project for massing the density around a major public bus stop.

McQueeney and Ryan claimed the application complied with the land-use standards that Eagle County applies to all projects. The compliance included the 2013 Mid-Valley Area Community Plan.

The approval came at the end of the long hearing. Opponents made a last-ditch effort to convince the commissioners to reject the project — with a threat of litigation.

Tim Whitsitt, an attorney representing a group called Save the Midvalley, said the commissioners couldn’t ignore a long list of legal shortcomings.

“If you do, you’re going to start a long string of litigation,” Whitsitt said.

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