Advocates of slow growth win seats in Eagle County
EAGLE COUNTY ” Two Eagle County commissioner candidates who made growth control and affordable housing centerpieces of their campaigns won Tuesday.
Incumbent Peter Runyon will return for a second four-year term while Jon Stavney takes over the seat being vacated by Arn Menconi. They preside over an area encompassing the middle Roaring Fork Valley, including El Jebel, part of Basalt, and parts of Missouri Heights and the Fryingpan Valley. Both Runyon and Stavney are Democrats.
Runyon topped Richard “Dick” Gustafson, a former county commissioner, by a 10,144 to 9,628 tally, or a margin of 51 to 49 percent.
Stavney had an easier time, defeating Debbie Buckley 10,390 to 9,173, or a margin of 53 to 47 percent.
Runyon said his strong support of growth control is somewhat controversial in a resort county that depends so heavily on second-home development.
“That’s probably why the vote was closer than I would have liked,” Runyon said Wednesday. “I was sweating bullets for a while last night.”
Runyon, 63, from Edwards, campaigned in 2004 on the need to get growth under control before it ruined the quality of life in Eagle County. He delivered on the pledge during his firm term. Eagle County government has implemented a growth management system that requires all projects to be assessed on how they will affect existing conditions and what they must do to mitigate impacts. Runyon also supported restrictions on ridgeline development and affordable housing requirements.
He remained concerned about development and growth potential in the 2008 campaign. Runyon said almost 18,000 residential units are approved but unbuilt in Eagle County and its towns. Given that level of growth is already approved, the county must carefully screen future development to preserve the quality of life, Runyon said during the campaign.
Runyon said a slower pace of development not only preserves the quality of life, it also keeps jobs and spending within Eagle County. During boom times in construction, out-of-town firms with workers from Denver often end up with the big jobs because local firms are booked, he said.
Runyon said his message about preserving quality of life strikes a chord with Roaring Fork Valley constituents to a greater degree than in the Eagle Valley.
Stavney told The Aspen Times last week that he wants to maintain the course the
Eagle County commissioners have gone the last four years, particularly on growth control and affordable housing requirements.
Stavney, 40, from Eagle, is a homebuilder who scoffed at his competitor’s claim that the private sector will build affordable housing in Eagle County if the government would just stay out of its way.
“I build second homes in the Vail area. I know what the free market does,” he said in an interview before the election.
He supports Eagle County’s tough new requirements for affordable housing and he wants the government to engage in more public-private ventures to provide housing. The government can acquire and contribute land, he said, and developers can build the housing.
Stavney and Runyon both support an agreement with the town of Basalt that could influence development in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county. Eagle County and Basalt signed an agreement this fall which requires greater cooperation when reviewing development applications in the fringe areas between the two jurisdictions.
Eagle County agreed not to approve high-density development outside of Basalt’s urban growth area.
Runyon said he learned from this election that he must do a better job of explaining what the county commission is doing and why. He was attacked by Gustafson for raising property taxes too drastically. Property values soared in Eagle County in 2007, sending tax bills up. Eagle County elected to keep all extra revenues rather than temporarily lower the tax rate.
Although Eagle County is just one taxing entity that controls 15 percent of the tax bill, voters perceived their high tax package was completely due to the commissioners’ decision, Runyon said. In reality, if the county had refunded its share of the extra revenues, it would have resulted in $10 per month for the average Eagle County homeowner, according to Runyon.
All that should have been explained more thoroughly to residents, he said.
Eagle County has a three-person board of commissioners. Sara Fisher is in the middle of a four-year term. Stavney joins the board in January.
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