El Jebel development pledges to reduce private vehicle use, but RFTA asks if it is enough
The Aspen Times
TREE FARM OPEN HOUSES
Public open houses on the Tree Farm proposal in El Jebel will be hosted by the development team this week.
Wednesday: 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Basalt Library.
Thursday: 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Eagle County Building in El Jebel.
The team working on a major development proposal in El Jebel claims it will set a new standard in the Roaring Fork Valley for getting residents out of their private vehicles and into buses.
The Tree Farm team said in its application that 86 percent of the 340 proposed residences will be built within one-quarter mile of the Willits Bus Rapid Transit stop, where buses run every 10 minutes at peak times.
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority agrees that the Tree Farm will be better than most at promoting use of mass transit. Even so, the public bus agency said in its assessment of the project, the Tree Farm will still add to the burden on Highway 82 and other congested roads.
“In spite of the genuine potential for automobile trip reduction, the project’s estimated 5,600 average weekday vehicle trips will create mobility challenges, both locally and in the broader region,” RFTA wrote in its report.
The debate demonstrates the challenges the Eagle County commissioners will face when they renew review of the project later this month.
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The Tree Farm is proposed on the north side of Highway 82 across from Whole Foods. Landowner Ace Lane and his firm, Woody Ventures LLC, have proposed 340 residences and up to 134,558 square feet of commercial space, which includes a 60,000-square-foot hotel.
Most of the residences will be located between the highway and an existing water-ski lake. There’s too little history with transit-oriented development in rural areas to effectively gauge how much of the projected traffic would be diverted off the highway. Lane’s team, Eagle County and the Colorado Department of Transportation agreed on a “conservative” estimate that 15 percent of potential traffic would be eliminated by people taking the bus, walking or riding a bike, according to Jon Fredericks, the land-use planner for Lane.
However, results in Denver and other parts of the country indicate the vehicle trip reduction could be as high as 50 percent, he said.
Fredericks said the project could reduce overall traffic impacts between Aspen and Glenwood Springs by moving workers closer to jobs in Aspen and Snowmass Village. National studies show that people who are attracted to transit-oriented developments tend to already use transit, he said.
Numerous projects underway
RFTA counters that there is an extensive amount of development already approved or in the pipeline in Basalt and El Jebel, and that it could adversely affect the travel time of buses heading upvalley during mornings and downvalley in afternoons.
“This could dissuade passengers from using RFTA and create greater demands on State Highway 82,” RFTA said in its assessment report to Eagle County.
There are numerous projects proposed or approved in Basalt and El Jebel. Eagle County approved the expansion of the El Jebel Mobile Home Park by 46 residences and is reviewing The Fields subdivision, with up to 110 residences.
In Basalt, Stott’s Mill is under review for 156 residences, and construction is underway on the 56-unit Roaring Fork Apartments. Another 50 apartments and 27 condominiums are scheduled to open this spring in Willits Town Center.
While the town of Basalt and Eagle County require traffic studies by individual projects, it’s difficult to pinpoint how they will combine to affect traffic on Highway 82.
“Cumulatively, these projects will create significant local and regional transportation demands, while the requisite multimodal transportation investments are unlikely to be covered by the project sponsors or the local governments,” RFTA said in its report.
Parking or housing?
RFTA and the Tree Farm also debated the need for a major parking lot at the Tree Farm site. The development team is proposing to provide 20 parking spaces for bus riders at the project and a $400,000 contribution to RFTA to use to acquire land for parking elsewhere. Lane has also committed to contribute $910,000 to the pedestrian underpass that was completed under Highway 82 at Willits.
The RFTA board of directors wants the Tree Farm to provide all 50 parking spaces onsite that were initially discussed. Fredericks wrote in a response to RFTA that it doesn’t make sense to add parking in a transit-oriented development. In addition, using prime ground for 30 additional parking spaces and circulation eliminated 21 or 22 housing units, according to Fredericks.
“We believe housing for workers in our community far outweighs the need for storing cars,” Fredericks wrote to RFTA.
The Eagle County commissioners will begin sorting it out at 5 p.m. Feb. 21 at a meeting in the Eagle County building by Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel.
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