Development and affordable housing dominate debate over Midvalley project, The Fields
A three-hour hearing Thursday on a proposed Midvalley development called the Fields boiled down to the classic battle dominating Roaring Fork talks – preserving quality of life and safety versus alleviating the affordable housing shortage .
The Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission did not make a decision but heard nearly 30 speakers with impassioned pleas. The planning board continued the meeting until April 21, when it will likely make an advisory recommendation to the Eagle County commissioners. The commissioners will then resume the review and issue the final call on the project.
Fields developers are seeking 19 acres of zoning along Valley Road across Highway 82 from the Blue Lake Subdivision. They want to build up to 135 residences on a property currently zoned for nine units. In an effort to sweeten the pot of public benefits, they are proposing to build 27 price-capped, deed-restricted units — twice the number required by Eagle County mitigation rules.
For the younger members of an audience of about 70 people, the addition of more affordable housing was music to their ears.
Fabiana Burbano said she lived in three places during her five years in Pitkin County. She works several jobs to keep a foothold.
Burbano, who said he was in his 30s, said buying a home on the open market was no longer possible for younger generations of Roaring Fork Valley residents. She supports the Fields because of the opportunities they present.
“These kinds of projects are my only opportunity to own a home here,” she said.
Older, established owners fear the Fields will lead to a deterioration of the lifestyle they worked so hard for. Several Valley Road residents have expressed concern that approval of the project will overwhelm the old country lane with traffic levels that will jeopardize the safety of children cycling to Crown Mountain Park or people who walk around. The developers’ traffic engineer estimated that the constructed scheme would add 1,021 vehicle trips to Valley Road per day.
“Eagle County is responsible when the first child is killed on this road,” Valley Road resident Tom O’Keefe said.
Several subplots emerged during the hearing, but housing dominated the discussion. Midvalley residents are tired of their once semi-rural area attracting the attention of developers now that Aspen’s land and development prices are firmly geared towards billionaires.
“Keep the area rural,” said CJ Howard. “That’s why we live here. That’s why we own here.
Excavator Nicky Humphries countered that if Eagle County rejects proposals like the fields, it will only solve the problems the Roaring Fork Valley is facing down the road. He said he spent more than two hours driving to work in Aspen.
“How is it sustainable?” He asked. “I am yet another person who cannot afford to live here.”
Others have pointed to Aspen and Pitkin County and their overheated economies driving job growth and the need for housing.
O’Keefe said the Upper Valley needed to do more to house its workers.
“We’re tired of housing Pitkin County workers,” he said, with many murmurs of agreement from the crowd. “They don’t do enough.”
Steve DeGouveia said affordable housing has always been an issue since he arrived in Aspen in the early 1970s. He was a longtime retailer at Footloose & Fancy Things. It’s hard to be successful in the valley, he said, but that doesn’t justify the high levels of growth facing the middle valley.
The Fields Development Group, led by Evan Schreiber, is working with Aspen Music Festival and School and Roaring Fork Fire Rescue to make some of the affordable housing units available to them. Representatives of both organizations said they have signed letters of intent for essential housing at the Fields.
The 27 price-capped units will be rented under Eagle County rules at specific levels tied to area median income. But some speakers questioned whether adding 27 affordable units was worth the price of adding 108 open market units.
Midvalley resident Bob Smith demanded to know what housing prices would be.
“I am totally against this project unless they can tell me how much this affordable housing is going to cost,” he said.
Other big topics thrown on the table for the planning council included the developer’s promises to help with road improvements and pedestrian safety. Schreiber’s team has committed $400,000 to help improve the overflowing intersection of El Jebel Road and Highway 82 near the Eagle County Community Center near Crown Mountain Park. Eagle County is working on a road reconfiguration plan to improve stacking distance. The project will cost at least $2 million. Members of the public said the fields should not be trusted unless and until these improvements are made.
The development team has also committed to constructing a trail on the south side of Valley Road to connect its area to Crown Mountain Park, if Eagle County is successful with its planned purchase of land from the U.S. Forest Service in the neighborhood. If that sale failed, the Fields would donate $300,000 for trail work. Critics said the uncertainty of supply was not enough.
A handful of speakers said Eagle County should halt development until the ramifications of all current growth are known and proper infrastructure is built.
Former Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, speaking as a private citizen, said the county approves of too many urban-style developments in rural areas with inadequate infrastructure.
“There must be a waiting period until the county catches up,” she said.
The planning council will resume deliberations on April 21 at 2:30 p.m. at the Eagle County building in El Jebel.