Judge upholds Eagle County’s approval of Tree Farm project in El Jebel
The Aspen Times
A judge ruled Thursday that the Eagle County government acted properly when it approved the Tree Farm project in El Jebel in June 2017.
Eagle County District Judge Kenneth Plotz denied an effort by a citizens’ group called Save the Midvalley to revoke the approval.
The Eagle County Commissioners acted properly “with regard to all aspects of their approval of the Tree Farm project,” the order said. “The Court also concludes that the Board did not exceed its authority or abuse its discretion in making its findings, conclusions, and authorizing the permitting of this project.”
Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu said in an email that the government agrees with the ruling and appreciates the analysis.
“We are happy to put this dispute behind us and are hopeful this project can become a successful component of this unique community,” Treu said.
The county commissioners approved the controversial Tree Farm project on June 26, 2017, by a 2-1 vote. Landowner and developer Ace Lane received approvals for 340 residences and nearly 135,000 square feet of commercial space, roughly half of which is a hotel. The site is located across Highway 82 from Whole Foods.
Lane’s Woody Ventures LLC was also a defendant in the lawsuit. In an email, Lane said, “I have always trusted the decision making of Eagle County even when it went against me. (Thursday) the careful consideration given our project by Eagle County Commissioners was upheld by the Court. That’s a win for the greater community.
“We will continue on our journey to build the most sustainable, forward-looking and inspiring community from the ground up,” Lane’s statement concluded.
Treu said the development team has not submitted an application yet for final plat approval. That is a technical, final step necessary before work can begin on infrastructure. Eagle County staff is working on requirements for final plat submissions and technical aspects of subdivision improvement agreements. Once those regulations are finalized, it will be ready to review final plat applications.
“Typical review time for a Final Plat of this size would be between three and six months,” Treu said.
Save the Midvalley is headed by midvalley activist Ken Ransford and counts Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt among its members. Tim Whitsitt, her husband, was the attorney that filed the lawsuit. Former Pitkin County Commissioner Joe Edwards, one of the fathers of growth control in the valley, is also a member of the organization.
Ransford couldn’t be reached Thursday for comment on the ruling.
Save the Midvalley filed a lawsuit the month after the county commissioners approved the Tree Farm and had to re-file in October 2017 for technical reasons. The lawsuit alleged the county commissioners improperly approved the project on six grounds, including that the preliminary plan for the project didn’t substantially conform to the sketch plan proposal. Sketch plan is the first step in the process. Preliminary plan is the second step.
Lane changed his application because, he said, he was trying to address public comments and community needs.
Save Midvalley also claimed the Tree Farm approval included multiple uses that are prohibited by the land use code in relevant zone districts.
In his order, Plotz noted the plaintiffs “are asking the Court to prohibit the Tree Farm project” from advancing.
“The Plaintiffs have a heavy burden,” Plotz wrote. “This Court may not, in its discretion simply review the decision by the Board, substitute its judgment, and accept it or reject it. Instead the Court must uphold the decision unless there is no competent evidence in the record to support it.”
He found on each of the lawsuit’s six points, there wasn’t evidence to overturn the county commissioners’ decision.
Treu said the lawsuit was handled in-house by the county attorney’s office, so there were no expenses beyond staff time.