Candidates share views on growth
Editor’s note: This is the second story introducing the candidates in the Eagle County commissioner races. The three candidates running in District 2 were profiled Monday. Today features the two candidates running in
Both candidates in the Eagle County commissioner District 1 race oppose the statewide growth initiative that’s on the Nov. 7 ballot, but both also claim to be proponents of growth control.
Republican Chuck Crist identified slower growth as one of the foundations of his election platform; Democrat Mike Gallagher promoted an alternative to Amendment 24 as a way for Eagle County residents to take control of land use issues.
District 1 doesn’t include El Jebel and Basalt, but everyone in the county can vote in the race.
Crist, 54, of Eagle-Vail, said he believes Eagle County is “at a crossroads” in issues such as growth, recreation and the economy. That prompted him to make a run at elected office to help decide how the county meets its challenges.
While on the campaign trail, Crist said growth has been the overriding issue on people’s minds.
“Of all the things I’ve heard, growth still underlies it all,” said Crist. “Going around talking to people, I’ve heard `slower growth.’ But I haven’t heard anybody saying `no growth.'”
He said he doesn’t want to see growth “springing up all over,” so he supports promoting development closer to existing urban centers and seeking ways to pace the rate of growth. If that is accomplished, Amendment 24 wouldn’t be needed.
“Slower growth will help the sprawl issue,” said Crist.
Gallagher, 55, of Minturn, said he didn’t want to amend the state constitution to tackle growth issues, as the statewide initiative would do.
“I don’t like amendments to the constitution,” he said. “You can’t tweak it. You can’t fix it. You can’t do anything with it.”
In addition, he is opposed because it would require a vote of the entire county electorate to settle an issue in El Jebel, for example. Popular centers like Vail would be asked to help decide critical growth issues in the far corner of the county. That just doesn’t make sense, said Gallagher.
He believes Eagle County residents can do more to control their destiny by regularly updating their master plans and making their elected officials apply them and follow them.
But Gallagher made it clear that he’s not advocating a halt to growth.
“I think growth is a given,” he said. “A piece of our economy depends on that.”
Growth control will never “stop us from having babies,” he noted. And some growth is desirable – like providing jobs and housing so younger generations can stay in the communities they grow up in, he said.
While Gallagher would prefer to see growth in previously developed areas, he wouldn’t rule out projects outside of existing towns.
“The fact that it is unincorporated doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any development there,” he said.
In one of his few votes on a development application in the Roaring Fork Valley, Gallagher voted with the other two commissioners to approve a condominium complex called Blue Ridge. The commissioners overruled the Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission, which recommended denial by a 2-1 vote after months of contentious meetings with the developers’ representatives.
Gallagher claimed that a planning commission’s advice should be followed “90, maybe 95 percent of the time” – as long as it follows the master plan. In the case of Blue Ridge, he felt the advice would have “carried more weight” if more than just three board members had voted on the issue.
Gallagher has been an Eagle County commissioner for about eight months. He was selected by the Democratic party to replace James Johnson, who resigned and moved away. Gallagher is now seeking to win election to a four-year term.
“I’ve been a public servant forever,” he said. “It’s what I’ve done all my life.”
He is a retired cop, serving as both a police officer and a chief. He has been a firefighter as well as a councilman and mayor in Minturn. Gallagher has presided over Roaring Fork Valley issues as a member of the Eagle County Regional Transportation Authority and as a member of a steering committee for the proposed Rural Transportation Authority.
Crist also touted his public service record. “I’ve always had a streak of public service running through me,” he said.
He is a Vietnam veteran and a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. He rejoined the service in 1993 and served four years trying to help spread democracy in the Balkans.
He came to Eagle County in 1977 and worked a variety of jobs – everything from teaching skiing to waiting tables. He became a real estate agent and operated his own small firm for a while. He is currently not working.
Both candidates made it a point to compliment their opponent and both emphasized they were avoiding negative campaigning.
“He’s a good guy and he’s done a reasonably good job in there,” said Crist.
Gallagher said: “He is a nice guy. I just think I could do it better.”
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