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GarCo commish extends River Edge agreements

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

A group of developers hoping to build a mix of 366 homes and a large commercial complex at the property known as River Edge, located between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, failed to get everything they wanted from the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) at a meeting on Monday.

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What they did get, though, was a clear indication from the three commissioners that Garfield County supports the basic proposals that make up the River Edge land use application, and want the developers to keep working to make the project a reality.

The developer, a Texas partnership known as Carbondale Investments, LLC has been trying for years to put together a project on a 160-acre property that has been the site of at least three previous development proposals, starting with the Sanders Ranch plan in 2001, on land between Highway 82 and the Roaring Fork River at its confluence with Cattle Creek.

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The property at one time was owned by Union Oil of California, which reportedly bought the land to acquire its water rights for use during the oil shale boom that blossomed in Western Garfield County in the 1970s and 1980s. The oil shale boom ultimately went bust, and the energy company sold the land to developers.

Successive project proposals on the Sanders Ranch land have been resisted by Carbondale officials, who felt the site was an inappropriate place for a large housing project with associated commercial development. Carbondale officials have argued the commercial activity at River Edge would siphon shoppers away from Carbondale businesses and cut into annual sales tax revenues that are the main source of income for the town, among other objections.

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Some of the approvals achieved by earlier developers, according to county documents, were set to expire in December. Earlier in 2016 representatives from Carbondale Investments (CI) tried to get extensions for the project’s preliminary plan, vested rights (the period that the developers have to get the project out of the ground or face expiration deadlines) and a development agreement, all of which are essential aspects of government approvals for development.

That request was denied by the BOCC last April, in part because county planners and attorneys had concluded that the preliminary plan for the project expired in 2014 and that there is no legal way to reauthorize the preliminary plan short of starting over again from scratch.

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In addition, planners have noted that the project already is five years behind schedule for breaking ground and starting construction, based on approvals granted to CI in 2011, when the project was scheduled to be completed by 2019, according to documents on file with Garfield County.

At Monday’s meeting, the BOCC was told by a developer’s representative that CI already has spent more than $5.5 million on the project, and that it is likely to have to spend another $3 million before construction can begin.

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As part of the changing face of the project, the representative said, CI has been talking with owners of adjacent parcels of land, which once were part of the overall project site before they were subdivided by the development company, about somehow reconnecting the different parcels for a new development scheme.

The developer’s representative, whose name was inaudible in the online videotape of the BOCC meeting, told the BOCC that extended approvals were needed to keep the talks alive.

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But the commissioners, having unexpectedly gone behind closed doors to talk with their attorney, concluded that the only extensions legally available to the project are for the vested interests and the development agreement, both of which were extended to 2021 at the Monday meeting.

The preliminary plan, however, could not be extended, though the commissioners seemed united in their displeasure that this was the case, and urged the developers to not abandon the effort to get the project built.

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Attorney David McConaughy, who represented the CI developers at the meeting, could not be reached for comment about what the developers plan to do next.

Sopris Sun reporter John Colson was unable to attend Monday’s Garfield County Commission meeting, but viewed the River Edge portion online.

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Published in The Sopris Sun on November 10, 2016.