When Eagle County government issued a press release in mid-September soliciting volunteers to serve on the Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission, the fine print was unambiguous: Applicants must, along with a list of fairly standard requirements related to residency and areas of expertise, be willing to meet on the first and third Thursdays of every month.
That demanding schedule translates to members sitting through hours of butt-numbing study of development applications and site plans 24 times a year. Otherwise-interested parties would be forgiven for having reservations regarding the potential enormity of the time commitment.
Thing is, the regional planning commission, which advises the Eagle Board of County Commissioners, by way of the Eagle County Community Development Department, rarely meets.
Twice a month, the Eagle County Community Development Department dutifully sends out the agendas for the upcoming RFVRPC meeting. Almost invariably, those communiques include the word “canceled.”
According to Morgan Beryl, Eagle County’s community development director, the planning commission has met a grand total of three times in 2019 — on May 30, June 20 and July 11.
The infrequency of meetings came as something of a surprise to Phillip Ring, who has served on the RFVRPC for three years — one year as an alternate and two years as a full-voting member.
“I am a land planner, though I do most of my work in Pitkin County,” Ring said. “I am fairly familiar with what a planning commission is tasked with. I did expect it to be more of a time commitment than it has been. I am shocked that there are as few meetings as there are.”
The reason for so many cancellations is simple: Of late, there has been nothing for the RFVRPC to do.
“Meetings are canceled when no land-use file applications require review and recommendation from the commission,” Beryl said.
“We just don’t have a whole lot of development activity in our corner of Eagle County,” Ring said. “There’s only a handful of significant, developable parcels. Most everything has already been subdivided or developed, so there’s not a whole lot for us to review.”
That may come as a surprise to those who believe that construction noise is the perpetual soundtrack of life in the Roaring Fork Valley part of Eagle County. But much of that development — such as that taking place in Willits — is occurring in incorporated Basalt, which is outside the jurisdiction of the RFVRPC.
The Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission has a full plate, meeting once a month, sometimes more.
“The town code spells out that our regular P&Z meeting is held on the first Tuesday of each month,” said Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney. “Special meetings may be scheduled and they usually would fall on the third Tuesday. It is not unusual for us to have that second meeting based on workload.”
Not so in territory covered by the RFVRPC.
But, according to Ring, 2019 is an anomaly.
The previous two years, he said, were horses of another color.
“We had Ace Lane’s Tree Farm on the agenda, as well as The Fields development,” Ring said. “Those were big. We did a rewrite of the master plan last year. That took quite a bit of time to review and consider adjustments and changes for master plan for our side of Eagle County.”
There also was a lot of controversy throughout 2017, during which time members of the RFVRPC went mano a mano with its administrative overlord — the Eagle BOCC — over what was purported to be a lack of support and respect by Eagle County government.
Previously, the planning commission had voted unanimously to recommend to the BOCC — which has final say over land-use issues — denial of an application by the Tree Farm, which called for 240 residences and 135,000 square feet of commercial development in unincorporated Eagle County across Highway 82 from Whole Foods.
The BOCC overturned that decision by voting 2-1 to approve the Tree Farm’s application, which did not sit well with several RFVRPC members.
Shortly thereafter, two longtime members — Cathy Markle and Raul Gawys — were not reappointed to the RFVRPC in a move many viewed as possible retaliation because of the Tree Farm vote.
The dearth of meetings has been one other cause, said Ring, who was elevated to voting-member status on the RFVRPC when Markle and Gawys were punted from the committee on the recommendation of then-Eagle County Community Development Director Damien Peduto.
“We should have already started reviewing the new land-use code, but, because Eagle County had massive turnover in the planning department, that rewrite has been back-burnered,” he said. “It has really slowed the process down to get caught up with all the things they have going on in the Vail Valley that’s overwhelming the planning staff, so we haven’t started addressing the land-use code rewrite, with the exception of a couple of minor amendments that we just approved last month that were stop-gap approvals to rectify some minor discrepancies in the code.”
But, Ring said, 2019 might very well be the calm before the storm.
“At some point The Fields will come back before us,” he said. “Then, the Tree Farm does have a second phase that I believe they need to get a couple of land-use approvals for.”
According to Dave Marrs, chief financial officer for Geronimo Ventures, the developer of the Tree Farm, the application process for phase two of the project is well underway.
“We’re busy working on the phase two final plat application materials now, for the next few months,” he said. “We’re hoping for final plat phase two approval by Eagle County in early spring at the latest. We hope to start phase two infrastructure in the spring as soon as final plat is approved. We are busy selling lots in both phases, though phase two lots are contingent on final plat approval.”
The Tree Farm also is dealing with a lawsuit based at least partially on the fact that the Eagle BOCC overturned the RFVRPC’s recommendation that the project be denied.
That suit was filed by a group called Save Mid Valley shortly after the Eagle BOCC’s decision.
“The Tree Farm plan violates the wishes of the community, including the Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission, the town of Basalt and Pitkin County,” said Ken Ransford, founding member of Save Mid Valley, which counts among its supporters Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, who set up a Go Fund Me account to help raise funds for the group’s anti-Tree Farm legal effort.
“The preliminary plan does not conform to the sketch plan that was approved in 2009, and the preliminary plan violates the county’s own land-use regulations and the Mid-Valley Area Community Plan, Eagle County’s comprehensive plan for this part of the County,” Ransford said.
“The lawsuit is still on appeal with Colorado Court of Appeals,” Marrs said. “We are assuming a ruling on the appeal before the end of this year.”
The 19-acre The Fields development, which could see 110 housing units, is not exactly on hold, but close to it. The proposed development, located on Valley Road near Crown Mountain Park, is having to deal with an issue related to the improvement of the El Jebel intersection on Highway 82.
“Ted Guy’s property on Willits Lane is something that we were expecting to hear already, but they were working through some paperwork with planning staff before it comes before the board,” Ring said. “So that’s forthcoming. We will hear that.”
Though it meets sporadically, Ring continues to be a firm supporter of the mission of the planning commission, which, according to Eagle County’s website, exists to “... make recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners regarding land use within the Roaring Fork Valley, Missouri Heights and Frying Pan Road areas of unincorporated Eagle County.”
“It’s nice that Eagle County recognized that the values over here are different, there are different considerations and that the Eagle County Planning Commission hearing what’s going on in this side of the valley, they’re not going to know a whole lot of what’s going on. To expect someone from our side of the valley to drive over there and be part of a countywide planning commission would also be a little difficult. It would be onerous on a planning commissioner to have to make that drive for every meeting.
“Plus most of what they would have to address would be somewhat foreign to them because it’s not in their backyard,” Ring continued. “I think it was a smart thing for Eagle County to do, but the reality is there aren’t that many things that come before the board and the few that have ended up being quite contentious, which scares some people [from applying for membership on the RFVRPC].”
As of yesterday’s deadline for sitting members of the planning commission, Charles Spickert and Robert Andre have reapplied for their three-year terms. Current members Judi Kula and Michael Luciano did not reapply.
Seats on the RFVRPC also are open to those not currently sitting on the commission. Applications are available online at eaglecounty.us/Planning. Applications are due no later than Nov. 11 and can be submitted via email to email@example.com.
For more information or to obtain a hard copy of the application, contact Christina Andrews at (970) 328-8751.
It was announced Wednesday that the RFVRPC will host its fourth meeting of 2019 on Nov. 7, during which time its lone agenda item is: 2020 Comprehensive Plan update project management strategy discussion.