Some midvalley residents would rather switch than fight with Eagle County
The Aspen Times
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The draft of Eagle County’s Mid-Valley Area Community Plan is available online at http://www.eaglecounty.us/Planning/Documents/Community_Plans/Mid_Valley_Master_Plan_Draft1_2018/.
County officials are urging midvalley residents to look at it and offer comments at future meetings where the final draft is crafted. The next meeting is 5:30 p.m. on May 3 in El Jebel.
Eagle County’s approval last year of the controversial Tree Farm project in El Jebel spurred review of development rules in response to public reaction, but some midvalley residents are looking for a clean break instead.
A nonprofit organization called Our Valley Our Voice has resurrected a secession effort that was first launched 20 years ago but fizzled. The group’s goal is to force a vote on a proposal to remove the Basalt and El Jebel area from Eagle County and add it to Pitkin County. Basalt already is divided with about one-third in Pitkin County.
Ken Ransford, a founder of the group, said the effort is driven in large part by disagreements with Eagle County over land use decisions in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county.
“We basically have taxation without representation,” Ransford said.
He believes being part of Pitkin County would enfranchise midvalley residents. El Jebel is just 20 miles from Aspen, which is the Pitkin County seat, and 50 miles from the Eagle County courthouse in Eagle.
“The long-term advantage of this is we’re going to be in touch with our representatives,” he said.
The Eagle County commissioners voted 2-1 last year to approve developer Ace Lane’s Tree Farm project across Highway 82 from Whole Foods. It features up to 340 residences and nearly 135,000 square feet of commercial space.
While it had the backing of some people who said it would bring sorely needed affordable housing, there was widespread opposition from people who contend it will make traffic congestion intolerable and otherwise overwhelm the midvalley. Opponents of the Tree Farm, including Ransford, have filed a lawsuit seeking revocation of the approval on various grounds.
“There is a lawsuit against the Tree Farm approval right now,” Ransford said. “It could succeed.”
If it does, Lane would have to seek new approvals. One Valley One Voice wants that review handled by Pitkin County, which has generally tougher land use rules than Eagle County.
In the bigger picture, Ransford’s group contends that the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County has more of a community of interest with Pitkin County. The midvalley’s economy is more dependent on Aspen and Snowmass Village. There isn’t a close identification in Basalt and El Jebel with the Eagle Valley, he noted.
The county lines were drawn in 1881 without following natural geographic features, such as the Roaring Fork watershed. Including the mid-valley in Eagle County was “a historical accident,” Ransford contended.
Ransford said the Eagle County commissioners and staff are out of touch with their constituents in the Roaring Fork Valley — simply because they all live in the Eagle Valley and are engulfed in a different community of interest. Likewise, residents of the middle Roaring Fork Valley have little idea about events in Eagle, the county seat, or Vail, the economic driver.
The Eagle County commissioners made a concerted effort to respond to the criticism of their approval of the Tree Farm. They placed a moratorium on major, new development applications requiring a zoning change, and they directed the Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission to review the area master plan, approved in 2013, and determine if it needed updating.
The planning commission held its seventh meeting Thursday evening and is preparing to start review of a final draft in May.
The updated plan will encourage “smart growth” over no growth or sprawl growth, said Damian Deputo, Eagle County planning director.
“That’s a philosophy of the document,” he said.
The plan envisions little additional growth in the parts of Emma, Missouri Heights and the Fryingpan Valley that are in Eagle County.
The planning commission was debating Thursday how much growth should be allowed in the remaining character area — the Highway 82 corridor. The draft plan says, “There is room for both residential and commercial growth. Adequate infrastructure and services are available.”
It also mentions the corridor is appropriate for “the continued build-out of a vibrant urban/suburban community.”
Temple Glassier, the planning commission chairwoman, said she felt Ace Lane’s property was appropriate for some development, though not at the magnitude approved by the county commissioners.
“We know El Jebel is logical and smart” for further development, she said. Other than those areas, she envisions low-density development even in the Highway 82 corridor.
She repeated a point she’s made in earlier meetings — the land where large development can be accommodated in the Roaring Fork portion of Eagle County is extremely limited.
“There’s not a lot left,” Glassier said.
Planning commission member Michael Luciano noted that affordable housing remains a critical need. Younger generations of families who live in the valley cannot get their own toehold because of the high cost of housing.
Commission member Judith Kula said there must be a realistic look at what amount of development can be absorbed.
“Eagle County doesn’t have all the responsibility to provide housing for the valley,” she said.
Ransford was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting, but he said Friday that he is wary of Eagle County sticking to plans to limit growth. He still feels the midvalley’s best path is to get out of Eagle County and into Pitkin County.
“I’m not convinced that everything’s been built out here,” he said.
One Valley One Voice is aiming to get the county switch issue onto the November ballot. Other supporters of the One Valley One Voice group are Tim Whitsitt, Cathy Click, Michael McVoy and Allyn Harvey, according to its letterhead.
The planning commission’s review of the master plan will resume May 3.
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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.