Midvalley group ‘investigates’ filing lawsuit over approval of Tree Farm project in El Jebel
The Aspen Times
A nonprofit public interest group says it has an attorney working pro bono to investigate if a lawsuit can be filed against Eagle County for granting approval to a controversial development project called the Tree Farm.
Save Mid Valley has retained Tim Whitsitt to see if a lawsuit can be filed under the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure to challenge the commissioners’ approval of the application.
“It’s a technical argument and we’re investigating it,” said Ken Ransford, a representative of Save Mid Valley.
The commissioners voted 2-1 Monday to grant the second round out of three rounds of approval. The final plat is a technical step undertaken by lawyers and engineers, so the Tree Farm essentially aced its test. That final step will take about one year to complete, so construction could start in summer 2018.
Property owner Ace Lane wants to build 340 residences and about 135,000 square feet of commercial space. His land is north of Highway 82 in the El Jebel area, across the road from Whole Foods.
Lane sought approval under a special kind of application called a planned unit development.
Ransford said the application allows flexibility but proposals must still conform to uses spelled out by the zoning at the time the application is made.
“Eagle County is saying in a (planned unit development) you can change uses,” he said. “We’re saying there are specific uses allowed.”
Save Mid Valley contends that Eagle County government allowed too much flexibility in the Tree Farm review and would be setting a bad precedent if the approval stands.
“You can do an end-around on a lot of the Eagle County land use code by filing a (planned unit development),” Ransford said. “If Ace Lane said he wanted to land his private jet by his ski lake, Eagle County is saying they can work it in.”
The group also is asserting that Lane and his company, Woody Ventures LLC, changed the proposal too drastically between the first-round approval and the second-round review.
Lane got first-round approval from the county in September 2009 for 319 residences and 96,819 square feet of commercial space.
Joe Edwards, another attorney working with Save Mid Valley, contended in Monday’s meeting that the proposal changed too drastically and that the review should start from scratch.
County attorney Beth Oliver has insisted repeatedly during the review that the proposal could change to reflect community and commissioner concerns. She also said the application complies with the uses.
Whitsitt will research the issues to determine if Save Mid Valley will file a lawsuit. Ransford and Edwards will assist.
Whitsitt is the husband of Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt. Basalt urged Eagle County to deny the Tree Farm project on a number of grounds.
Ransford said Save Mid Valley’s arguments go beyond the technical. Members of the group believe the Tree Farm fails to provide adequate affordable housing and that it generates too much traffic. More than 5,000 daily vehicle trips are projected from the Tree Farm.
The project has 40 apartments that will be rented at price-controlled rates and 10 units that will be sold with price caps. Another 150 units will be offered for sale to residents of the Roaring Fork Valley for the first 60 days after they are listed. If they aren’t under contract after that period, they can be sold to anyone. There will be no price caps on those 150 units.
Critics contend those units shouldn’t count as affordable housing. Eagle County disagrees and is giving the developer credit for affordable housing.
Ransford contended Eagle County Commissioners Jill Ryan and Jeanne McQueeney aren’t listening to the majority of their constituents in the Roaring Fork Valley. The Tree Farm faced extensive opposition. Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry voted against the project. She said she felt the changes were significant from the first round to second round of review.
Save Mid Valley has applied for tax-exempt status to tap into its support, Ransford said.
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