Meeting attendees split on El Jebel development plan
Developer Ace Lane’s plan to add 243 residences and possibly a natural food store in El Jebel drew roughly equal numbers of supporters and detractors to its first government review Thursday.Supporters said the environmentally friendly project should be approved and used as a model for inevitable growth in the Roaring Fork Valley.Critics countered that the project is too dense and threatens to burden the midvalley with unmanageable traffic and other impacts.A crowd of about 80 people turned out for the hearing before the Roaring Fork Regional Planning and Zoning Commission. About 30 of them spoke before the planning commission tabled the discussion for further review on Oct. 5.Lane and his wife, Jennifer, own the water ski lake and 200 mostly vacant acres across Highway 82 and slightly upvalley from the El Jebel City Market. They want to build townhouses, single-family homes and condominiums mixed in with retail space. The plan also includes about 93,000 square feet of commercial space – about half of that for a natural food store.If the project can’t lure that type of grocer, the Lanes would cut 45,000 to 55,000 square feet of commercial space out of the project rather than bring in a big-box retailer, according to Rick Pylman, the land use planner on the project. “I don’t want to confuse anybody that we want to do any bait and switch here,” Pylman said.The plan for the project, called Tavaci, features a pedestrian-friendly village, heavy reliance on alternative energy sources such as solar, and landscaping with thousands of trees.Jennifer Lane said they and their three boys will continue to live on the property after its development, so they have extra incentive to do it right: “We only want to live out our values on the property,” she said.The Lanes want Tavaci to be a model development not only in the valley or the state, but in the country, Jennifer said.”I’ve been green way before green was mainstream,” Ace told the planning commission.Green or not, the project was too large for some in the crowd. Missouri Heights resident and Basalt businessman Ken Ransford said traffic was one of his prime concerns. Using projections from the application and transportation industry standards, Ransford determined the development would mean 7,850 vehicle trips per day. What that really means, he said, is 10 to 15 minutes of delays, minimum, for commuters going through the Willits and El Jebel intersections on Highway 82.Ransford stressed that the planning commission must consider the cumulative effects of Tavaci with the adjacent Shadowrock, a 100-unit luxury townhouse project, and Willits, the massive commercial and residential development across the highway. Lane’s project is in the unfortunate position of being the last under review, so it will receive greater scrutiny, Ransford said.”If this development was in downtown Chicago or downtown Denver, it would be great, but not here,” Ransford said. “It’s too dense.”Cathleen Krahe of Missouri Heights vowed to consider moving back to Aspen if Tavaci is approved. She wants compact development, not sprawl, she said.Former Basalt Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt complained that too many land-use decisions happen in a vacuum in the Roaring Fork Valley. Local governments have approved thousands of residences that remain unbuilt, she said. The governments should work together to gauge the impact of that development on the valley’s infrastructure before approving more, she said.Basalt Town Manager Bill Efting urged the planning commission, which is a branch of Eagle County government, to force Lane to apply for annexation into the town. If that happened, Basalt’s land-use requirements would apply to the project.”It’s a clear case of urban growth in a rural area,” Efting said.But just as many people spoke in favor of the project. In contrast to Krahe, Basalt resident Tripp Adams said he would move from Basalt to Tavaci if the project was approved. It’s that good, he said, labeling the proposal “an oasis” and “an incredible treasure.”One speaker said the project was a welcome departure from typical development patterns that make people drive from home to work to shopping and home again. He said Tavaci’s combination of retail space, office space and homes would provide some opportunity for people to work and shop without hopping into their cars. “This project brings everything that’s new and true and right” about visionary development, he said.Gavin Brooke said development should be clustered along with highway, like Tavaci, so that agricultural lands and open spaces can be preserved in places like Missouri Heights and Emma.A handful of speakers centered on the point that development is inevitable in the Roaring Fork Valley because it remains such a desirable place to live: “There needs to be a supply or you’re going to get home prices like you have in Aspen,” said Bart Johnson.Some proponents of the project took that thought a step further and said Tavaci is the type of development they want to see – a quality plan by a local resident – instead of a bottom-line-oriented proposal by big developers from out of town.The planning commission decided not to wade into discussion of the project Thursday evening. The members decided to visit the site Sept. 21, then possibly take an advisory vote on Oct. 5. The commission’s recommendation will go to the Eagle County commissioners.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The 27th Street Underpass Bridge project design has reached 30% completion, with a final design expected to be completed by August.