Eagle County candidates offer three distinct visions
October 29, 2006
Roger Brown minces no words when he is asked how he would assess Eagle County’s rate of growth. “Out of control,” replied the candidate for Eagle County commissioner.”You can’t have finite growth on finite resources,” said Brown, who is running as an unaffiliated candidate among a field of three.The candidates share a concern, to varying degrees, about what’s happening in Eagle County, which includes the El Jebel and Basalt areas in the Roaring Fork Valley.Sara Fisher, the Democrat in the race, said the growth rate is “stressful.” That stress is reflected in everything from the traffic congestion to the looks on people’s faces, she said.Republican Tom Edwards said his philosophy is “stuck” somewhere between feeling there shouldn’t be any more growth and that everybody has a right to move to the beautiful Colorado mountains.
“I think development is good but moderate development is better,” Edwards said. Too fast of development doesn’t allow good community planning, he warned.Stance on ‘upzonings’With the Roaring Fork Valley’s economy booming and development pressures affecting virtually all remaining open, private lands, The Aspen Times decided to probe the candidates for positions on growth. Specifically, the candidates were quizzed on how they view requests to change the zoning on property where developers seek to increase the number of homes or commercial buildings they can build. They were also asked how they view land use master plans, which define what citizens want to see in different neighborhoods.Brown took a hard-line approach. He said he “probably” wouldn’t approve requests for greater density on incorporated, rural lands in the county. “I think the growth should occur in towns,” he said. “We should grow out from the towns.”It hasn’t always worked that way in Eagle County. Subdivisions have historically been approved in rural areas. In fact, two of the areas with the largest populations are the unincorporated areas of El Jebel and Edwards.Brown said “islands” of development have been approved for years between the towns. “We have a mess,” he lamented.
And now the county is starting to pay the price, in his view. The infrastructure is inadequate to handle the growth, in many places, or it is outdated and crumbling. As an example, he noted that Costco was allowed to open a new super store in Gypsum this month even though the interchange from Interstate 70 is inadequate to handle the traffic.He contended that developers still “control the county” and that the latest development surge has attracted “big outside developers and big money” to Eagle County. “Everybody wants a piece of it.”Brown said zoning and master plans, advisory documents that recommend what type of development people want to see and where, should be followed. “I would look at [a master plan] as a useful tool that should be followed,” he said.Brown concluded by noting he isn’t “entirely” against growth. It’s clear, however, that he is very skeptical.Fisher fishes for local perspectiveFisher said she wouldn’t declare upzonings off limits for all projects. Each application needs to be assessed on its own merits for what it does for the community, she said.
If an upzoning provides more affordable housing, she would consider it. If an upzoning is sought for retail shops, she would be skeptical because of the growth pressures that it would trigger, like the need for more housing for the workers, she said.”We can’t just keep building and adding more jobs unless those people have a place to live,” said Fisher.Fisher is the only one of the three candidate who has visited the Roaring Fork Valley to listen to the public at recent hearings on a controversial development. She attended at least one meeting on the Tavaci application, which could add 245 residences and 93,000 square feet of commercial space at El Jebel.Fisher said she attended to capture the “locals’ perspective,” not to participate in the debate. Throughout the campaign, she said she learned that people are concerned county-wide that the infrastructure isn’t in place to handle the anticipated growth.Fisher said the county master plan should be used to guide land use, but the plan must be updated periodically to reflect changing conditions.Like Brown, she expressed concerns about the current rate of growth.
“We’re growing at an above-average rate and have been for, what, 10 years,” Fisher said, adding that anything above three percent annual growth can cause problems. “We have exceeded that for a number of years.”Local representation is bestEdwards said there are times when an upzoning may be appropriate. “I’ve been saying one of the ways to get more affordable housing is to increase density in areas close to the communities,” he said.In those cases, he would increase the density for developers if, in return, the community received affordable housing.Edwards wants to keep the density low in the areas furthest from the towns. He is a big proponent of buying land to keep it open. He serves on the Eagle County Open Space Advisory Board, which advises the county commissioners on how to spend an open space tax, and he serves on the board of directors of the private Eagle Valley Land Trust.He views the Eagle County master plan as “generally not bad” as a tool to guide growth, but he questions how much participation went into the document by county residents. As a councilman in Gypsum, he believes the town had little input in the master plan for that town’s vicinity.
All three of the candidates said they feel the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county is stricter on growth control. Brown said he feels he matches that sentiment well.Edwards said the best way for the Roaring Fork Valley to be represented on growth issues is to have their own commissioner. No one from the Eagle Valley, 60 miles away from Basalt and El Jebel, adequately can represent the Roaring Fork Valley on land use or any other matter, he said.Edwards serves on the county Home Rule Charter Commission. The proposed charter, which will be voted on in the November election, would increase the number of county commissioners from three to five. The Roaring Fork Valley would receive its own representative.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.