El Jebel Tree Farm review spurs debate about housing versus growth
The Aspen Times
Midvalley landowner Ace Lane is finally rallying public support for his large and controversial development in the El Jebel area.
While prior public hearings have been lopsided against his plan, about two-thirds of the 20 or so speakers at a hearing in El Jebel on Tuesday night urged the Eagle County commissioners to approve the project.
The commissioners have two additional hearings scheduled before they plan to vote.
Lane and his Woody Ventures LLC are proposing 340 residences and nearly 135,000 square feet of commercial space on the north side of Highway 82, across from Whole Foods Market. The proposal would include 43 deed-restricted affordable housing units and a hotel of about 60,000 square feet.
Proponents said Lane’s Tree Farm project will bring much-needed affordable housing. Some supporters also touted a sustainable project that features small, energy efficient residences that are close to a major stop for the public bus system.
Laurie Soliday said if she was a large landowner, the Tree Farm is the type of project she would propose. Its greatest attribute is that it would provide housing for families, she said.
“I’ve got a lot of friends waiting on this project, ready to jump in,” Soliday said.
Yvette Trinado said she represents one of those families. She operates a midvalley business and has two children in Basalt schools but fears getting priced out of the home she has rented for six years.
Everybody who has secure housing doesn’t want to see any more development, she noted, but that’s unfair to people like her who are struggling to get a foothold.
Opponents of the project countered there is no guarantee that the vast majority of Lane’s residences will remain affordable. Only 43 apartments will be rented with price controls.
Lane’s land-use planner, Jon Fredericks, said small unit sizes and mid-level finishes will keep prices affordable on many of the free-market units. Audience member Brian Edgington countered that the project will be a magnet for second-home owners looking for bargains close to Aspen. That will drive the prices beyond the means of the Roaring Fork Valley’s working folks, he said.
Ellie Taylor told the county commissioners it would be irresponsible to approve the Tree Farm without first allowing the midvalley to absorb Willits Town Center, a project across the highway that was approved for 672,000 square feet of commercial and residential space. A substantial amount is yet to be developed.
Taylor noted that the Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission advised rejecting the Tree Farm “as the voice of people who live here.”
The town of Basalt has taken an official position that the Tree Farm should be denied unless major revisions are made, such as reducing the threat of competing with Basalt’s commercial centers.
“This is not an example of smart growth,” Councilman Bernie Grauer said.
But the prevailing sentiment of the night, expressed by at least three speakers, was that growth is going to happen, and Lane’s project is as good as it gets.
The county commissioners will resume the review April 11 at 5 p.m. in the Eagle County office building in El Jebel.
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Current Basalt officials say the town government has violated the Colorado Taxpayers’ Bill of Right by increasing the property tax mill levy over the prior years 10 times since the mid-2000s. Two former mayors contend the mill levy could be adjusted in any given year as long as it didn’t exceed the mill levy in 1994. It’s a $2 million question.