Growth potential to get close scrutiny in Basalt-to-El Jebel corridor | PostIndependent.com

Growth potential to get close scrutiny in Basalt-to-El Jebel corridor

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
The heart of El Jebel contains the bulk of the undeveloped land in the Eagle County portion of the Roaring Fork Valley. Eagle County is updating a land use master development plan for the midvalley.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

A midvalley planning commission decided Thursday night it will assess about 12 undeveloped properties on a case-by-case basis to determine if they should be designated for more development than they are now, less or remain the same.

The exercise will be the final piece of an update of development guidelines that will be used by the Eagle County commissioners when they review applications.

The Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission has already determined that the existing rural character should be preserved in Emma, the Fryingpan Valley and Missouri Heights.

The remaining debate is over properties on or near the Highway 82 corridor between Basalt and the Eagle-Garfield county line, including El Jebel.

Several undeveloped properties are designated as urban-suburban, which can allow anywhere from 1 to 7 residences per acre. The planning commissioners, all residents of the Roaring Fork Valley, said they have heard from the public over a series of meeting that the range is too broad and the intent too vague. Commission member Charles Spickert suggested that category be divided into low density of 1 to 3 residences and moderate density of 4 to 7 to create a better transition from high-density to low-density areas.

The commission members also said it would be effective planning to create an urban growth boundary in the El Jebel area to designate where higher density would be acceptable and where lower density should be sought.

“There’s a lot of value to it,” commission member Phillip Ring said of an urban growth boundary.

Member Curtis Vaughn said the board has heard from numerous members of the public that they don’t want the Highway 82 corridor to look like the Interstate 70 corridor in the Vail area.

The planning commission’s contemplation comes at a time when growth is a hot topic in the midvalley. One sizable faction says development must be allowed to bring affordable housing and vitality missing in the midvalley.

An equally sizable faction is fed up with traffic and the need for higher property taxes to expand infrastructure to handle the growth.

There was little public participation in Thursday’s meeting. Denise Handrich lamented the changes the midvalley has experienced over the past four decades.

“When I moved here the whole area was rural and I loved it,” she said.

She said she understands that developers want to make money and that more people want to live in the valley, but it is taking too great of a toll on the existing residents. Development doesn’t pay its way, Handrich said, and that produces the need to seek property tax increases for Crown Mountain Park and the school system as the area grows.

“People feel they aren’t being listened to,” Handrich said. That led to the recent launch of a movement by a citizens’ group to explore leaving Eagle County and joining Pitkin County, she said.

Keith Ehlers, a land use planner, said the planning process hasn’t included much of an assessment for the need for affordable housing. The need for density in the El Jebel area is even more important now than it was five years ago because of the intensity of the affordable housing shortage, he said.

The El Jebel area is appropriate for additional development, he said, because the existing infrastructure hasn’t been exhausted and because the area is its own community of interest. He noted that from a technical standpoint, the Colorado Department of Transportation says Highway 82 can absorb more traffic.

Ehlers is the land use planner for a residential project called The Fields, across Highway 82 from Blue Lake. The proposal is for up to 110 housing units on 19.39 acres. The current master plan designates the site as appropriate for 3 to 7 units per acre. Ehlers said he would like a chance at a future meeting to say why that designation remains appropriate.

The Fields received a first-round approval from the county commissioners but the review is on hold. The project was caught in a moratorium on large land use projects that is in place while the master plan is updated.

Resident Tom O’Keefe emphatically urged the planning commission to reduce the remaining development potential in the midvalley. He claimed that the Tree Farm project that was approved by Eagle County for developer Ace Lane would do “enough damage.”

The project hasn’t been built yet. The county commissioners voted 2-1 to approve up to 340 residences and 135,000 square feet of commercial space across Highway 82 from Whole Foods.

O’Keefe claimed residents of the midvalley are fed up with development and frustrated that the county commissioners won’t follow their will.

“If the Fields project went to a vote, it would be (defeated) by the people of the community overwhelmingly,” he said.

The planning commission will assess designations for individual properties, including the Fields site, at a meeting later this month. Details on the properties to be reviewed will be outlined on the Eagle County website.

scondon@aspentimes.com