Eagle County bans new subdivisions | AspenTimes.com

Eagle County bans new subdivisions

Scott N. Miller
Vail correspondent

NWS House Construction BH 10-4

EAGLE ” Arn Menconi made a promise Tuesday, but Karl Berger doesn’t think Menconi can keep it.

Menconi, along with fellow Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon, voted Tuesday to approve a ban on new subdivisions in Eagle County. The ban means property owners can’t ask for permission to build more on their property than they’re currently allowed to. The ban is supposed to last for nine months.

“I promise this is a nine-month moratorium,” Menconi said, adding that the ban will give county officials time to complete work on new or revised regulations governing building in wildlife habitat, building on ridges and hillsides, and requiring water conservation and “environmentally friendly” building materials for new construction.

But Berger, an Eagle-Vail resident who owns 160 acres at Dotsero, doesn’t think the ban will last just nine months.

“I think it’s the long-term agenda of the commissioners to do this, and this is a back-door entry into furthering their personal goals,” he said.

Berger was one of several dozen people who attended Tuesday’s commissioners meeting and one of several who spoke against the ban.

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“If you’re a property owner and have raw land that’s zoned, you’ll see a huge spike in prices,” he said.

Berger and several others said the commissioners already had the legal authority they need to slow down development while working on new or revised land-use regulations.

For Berger, the matter is an immediate worry. He has 10 acres of his Dotsero land under contract to 84 Lumber, a regional building materials company that wants to build a lot at Dotsero.

The company has already put money into various soil studies and has also put a nonrefundable down payment on the property, 84 Lumber attorney Chris Bomar said.

But Runyon said 84 Lumber appears to fit the definition of a “hardship” application that the ban’s legal language provides for.

That language allows people or companies that have already put money into planning a piece of property to apply for an exemption to the ban, after paying a $300 fee to the county.

Menconi and Runyon have supported the ban based on studies that show by 2030 Eagle County will have thousands more jobs than local residents to fill them.

The study, which the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments released in 2004, indicates that more than 38 percent of Eagle County’s economy depends on second homes. That’s too big a piece of the local economic pie, Menconi said.

The ban, he said, will “send a message” that the commissioners want to preserve the county’s environmental quality and want to diversify the local economy.

Hearing that, a representative of the Eagle Valley Homebuilders Association had a message of his own.

“We want to send a message that we’ll oppose this by any means,” said Jim Turnipseed, president of the group.

But, he added, the homebuilders are eager to work with the commissioners on how best to draft the regulations that are supposed to be written while the ban is in effect.

While Turnipseed promised to oppose the ban, Tuesday’s vote effectively derailed any organized effort to stop it.

Some who spoke against the ban said they wished they’d had more time to debate it. While the ban has been bubbling for some time, Tuesday was the first, and only, public hearing on the matter. Last month, Runyon said he expected there would be more than one hearing, saying it was important to hear what the public had to say.

“That’s just the way it happened,” he said of voting after a single hearing.

Commissioner Tom Stone, who voted against the ban, said he believed the matter was put forward quickly.

Stone said the ban wasn’t needed and that Runyon and Menconi had other legal ways to work on the county’s regulations.

“There’s no reason to adopt this,” Stone said.

But Menconi and Runyon disagreed.

Talking about the county’s new master plan, Menconi said the word “residents” comes up time and again in the document.

“I want to make sure there are still residents in Eagle County,” he said. “This is an effort to manage our growth.”

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