Recreation, conservation and housing emerge as top options for midvalley site
U.S. Forest Service wants to sell or lease 70 acres by Crown Mountain Park
A preliminary report on potential future uses of 76 acres of valuable public land in the middle Roaring Fork Valley suggests further investigation into recreation, conservation and possibly providing a site for affordable housing.
Eagle County chief financial officer Jill Klosterman stressed in a presentation to Eagle County commissioners Tuesday that the process is just getting underway and the staff has made no assumptions on the direction.
“We’re just listening to what the community was telling us,” Klosterman said.
Eagle County hired consulting firm DHM Design to begin public outreach this year on future uses of the 70 acres owned by the U.S. Forest Service and an additional 6 acres owned by Eagle County adjacent to the popular Crown Mountain Park. The Forest Service announced more than a decade ago it wanted to “dispose” of the property through lease or sale, but the process has languished. The land is within Eagle County, so the White River National Forest supervisor’s office recently gave its blessing to the county to explore uses with public benefits, with Forest Service staff as part of the team.
DHM held six “listening sessions” that about 75 people attended, ranging from neighbors to community leaders, interested public agencies to the public-at-large.
A near universal desire is to see 40 acres of Forest Service land along the Roaring Fork River conserved. The lower bench is heavily used by hikers and anglers.
“The USFS considers the lower 40 acres of the El Jebel Administrative Sites to be undevelopable and assumes this acreage will be conserved, and the community outreach process illustrated that the conservation value of the lower parcel is uncontested,” the report said. “The lower parcel has been identified by a number of local land and water conservation and stewardship groups as significant for river health, wildlife corridors, public access, primitive/low-impact recreation.”
Another 30 acres of Forest Service land along Valley Road is considered “developable.” That 30 acres consists of a pasture, a large “boneyard” where the Forest Service stores extra equipment and a small housing complex for Forest Service workers.
Crown Mountain Park executive director Becky Wagner said her board of directors has indicated it would like to pursue acquiring some of the land for expansion of the popular park. While the park provides numerous amenities on about 124 acres, it is getting “maxed out” by various user groups, she said.
The bonds that were originally issued to establish the park expire next year. The bonds are being paid off by a property tax. Crown Mountain officials are interested in exploring a new bond issuance question at an election in 2022, Wagner said.
The listening sessions found there is “high community value of existing and potential active and passive recreation assets.”
A third, less clear-cut potential use of the site that emerged from the listening sessions was affordable housing. Affordable land is always the barrier to providing affordable housing in the valley, so housing advocates would like a portion of Forest Service site.
“Of particular interest during the outreach was the density of housing development with neighbors and regional stakeholders cautioning against ‘maximizing density,’” the DHM report said.
Only two members of the public attended the presentation of the report to the county commissioners. Mary Kenyon said she is an advocate for senior housing and would like to see it considered at the site. Todd Hartley lobbied the county to be creative when looking at uses and focus on community benefits other than housing. He noted that the explosive growth of the midvalley is continuing with major residential projects in El Jebel and Basalt that will add between 450 and 550 units.
“We’ve got to cool the jets on the housing,” Hartley said. “You’ll hear that from a lot of people there.”
He proposed a creative plan that features an orchard, cidery, park, bouldering wall and even a small bed and breakfast on 17 acres. He envisions it as a public-private pursuit. His full plan is outlined at http://www.ospreyorchard.com.
“It could make Crown Mountain Park the coolest park in Colorado,” Hartley said.
The commissioners said they are eager to engage the public more on what they want to see on the property. They indicated they want a process that will include public work sessions in El Jebel, but no timetable has been set yet.
In addition to the county process, the Forest Service must go through the National Environmental Policy Act before it can convey the property, so it will likely be months if not years before any direction is set.