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Easement an issue for school access

Veronica Whitney

AVON – If Village at Avon developers want to build a road on National Forest land, they need a plan for a school or agree to a land exchange, U.S. Forest Service officials said.The Forest Service denied in August a request for an easement that would have allowed Magnus Lindholm of Traer Creek LLC, the developers of the Village at Avon, to build a road traversing Forest Service land. The road would cross an isolated 80-acre parcel of National Forest east of Avon to reach tract M, where a new elementary school and new homes would be built.”We denied it because (Lindholm) has access through private land,” said Cal Wettstein, a district ranger with the U.S. Forest Service. “From a Forest Service standpoint, it isn’t timely to issue an easement. Traer Creek was predicating the need for a road because it would lead to a school. However, one of the key pieces of information we got was that the building of the school there wasn’t definite.”But Lindholm said the easement was denied wrongfully. “The Forest Service thinks that the School District can’t accept the land until they have the money to build the school, but they can,” he said.Wettstein said the Forest Service didn’t flat out deny Lindholm’s request.”We said we would reconsider his request if they can come with a guarantee that there will be a school there and if we could see more community support for it,” he said. “Instead of providing an easement through the land, the Forest Service would prefer doing a land exchange for that 80-acre parcel.”When they develop the Village at Avon, that 80-acre parcel will be surrounded by development,” he added. “Then it would be difficult to manage the land. Once the Village at Avon is developed around the parcel, there’s not much value for wildlife habitat.”But Lindholm said he wouldn’t consider a land exchange.”If this doesn’t work with the easement, I’m not going to apply for an exchange,” he said.After previously considering two other sites, school district officials told Lindholm they are interested in track M. The school district is holding a public meeting at Avon Elementary School on Wednesday to discuss where the new school should be.”Tract M is the school district preferred site based on discussions that have happened to date,” said Pam Holmes Boyd, spokeswoman for the school district. “But we act as a referring agency. The town of Avon is the one that accepts the school site.”The easement Lindholm applied for the easement two years ago. Though he could access the potential school site from his private land, he said the easement would provide a much direct route, not only for parents driving their children to school but for emergency services.”If we get the easement, Swift Gulch Road, currently under construction near the Wal-Mart Interstate 70 exit, would continue east over the Forest Service land and straight to the school,” Lindholm said. “If we use the private road, it would cost more to the town to plow and maintain it.”For Eagle River Fire Protection District Chief Charlie Moore, the access through the Forest Service land would provide a shorter and less winding road in case of an emergency.”The better the access for us, the better the fire protection we can deliver,” Moore said.In terms of maintaining the road, Bob Reed, director of public works and transportation for the town of Avon, also believes a road through the Forest Service land would be better than a road coming from above.”From what I’ve seen, it would definitely be easier terrain to work with,” Reed said.The Forest Service could issue an easement across National Forest if it is in the public interest and if it’s the best access both logistically and environmentally, Wettstein said.”We have received numerous letters opposing the easement,” he added.Opponents have also written letters to the school district. In a letter written to school district Superintendent John Brendza, several people – including Avon town Councilwomen elect Tamra Nottingham Underwood and Kristi Ferraro and Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi – say they don’t believe parcel M is the best site for a school because it is too far away and detached from the community. The letter also says there are concerns with health and safety risks posed by the railroad corridor, the Eagle River and the high voltage power lines impacting the parcel. “We believe that Mr. Lindholm’s desire to move the school site to parcel M has very little to do with serving the best interests of ECSD and has a lot more to do with maximizing profits for Traer Creek,” the opponents say in the letter.Trail benefit Ellie Caryl of ECO trails, is among those who support Lindholm’s easement request.If he gets the easement, Lindholm has committed to build a new ECO trail system that would connect the existing trail in Dowd Junction to the town of Avon.”That would save the taxpayers an amount that I estimate to be at least $900,000 in construction and design costs,” Caryl says in her letter to Wettstein.The new trail would make it convenient for people living in Buffalo Ridge to access the school, Lindholm said.”A kid coming from Buffalo Ridge will not have to cross one street to get to the school,” he said.Staff Writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or vwhitney@vaildaily.com. At a glancePublic inputWhat: Public meeting to discuss the future location of a new elementary school at the Village at AvonWho: Eagle County School DistrictWhen: At 6:30 p.m. WednesdayWhere: Avon Elementary School—————————————


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