Eagle County begins growth battle
Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon figures there is a brief window of opportunity to try to wrestle growth under control before it ruins Vail and the rest of the Eagle Valley.Runyon, a Democrat who won election last year on a slow-growth platform, is using startling statistics about Eagle County’s growth to try to harness public support for tougher controls on development. He wants the county government and towns within the county to work together to be more choosy about what they approve and where they approve it.Runyon said he is undertaking the effort to try to deliver on a campaign promise to rein in development.”Four years go on this message I couldn’t have been elected,” Runyon said. “I suspect in 12 years I couldn’t get elected with this message [if changes aren’t made now].”
Runyon believes the quality of life that makes Eagle County so attractive is in jeopardy. Newcomers expect more urban services. Eventually, when enough newcomers arrive, they might prefer Eagle County as an urban corridor in the mountains, he lamented.At Runyon’s request, the county planning office recently updated statistics on growth from a study performed two and a half years ago.The old study showed there were 23,000 existing dwellings in the towns and unincorporated areas of Eagle County. Today there are 25,500, an increase of 11 percent.The old study showed that an additional 13,000 residences of all kinds were approved but not built. That number has swollen to 16,000 today, an increase of 23 percent.Most of that new development will be second homes, which will generate substantial new demand for landscapers, maids and other service workers.
“I’m resigned, essentially, that our population is going to double,” Runyon said. That would mean an increase from about 50,000 to 100,000 residents over the next 25 years. While he doesn’t want to see that level of growth, his immediate goal is to prevent government approvals that would eventually boost the county’s population to 150,000.”This is the message I’m trying to get out: Is this what we want?” Runyon said.He wants to work with each of the towns in the county, including Basalt, but feels the greatest potential for growth is at Avon, Eagle and Gypsum. He has compiled the growth statistics in graphics and is preparing to meet with town councils, Rotary clubs and citizen groups to present his “dog-and-pony show,” he said.Runyon is less concerned about growth in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County, he said, because it has the slow-growth influence of Pitkin County.
Eagle County is rewriting its land-use code. Some provisions could make it harder to get development approvals while others increase requirements for mitigation like affordable housing.Runyon said it is important for the county to work with town governments so growth can be directed to places where it can best be served by infrastructure.Runyon’s effort is significant because it signals a drastic change in policy by Eagle County’s leadership. Prior boards have been more favorable toward growth. Like Runyon, Democrat Arn Menconi is also tougher on growth. He is entering his second term.Runyon warned that Eagle County’s direction won’t be changed overnight. “It’s not an issue where you can wave a hand and simply make it go away,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org