Eagle County officials ask: Can we be any more dense?
September 26, 2005
Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi has been called a lot of things during his five years in office, and Oct. 4 he expects to be labeled a communist by some critics.But Menconi and Commissioner Peter Runyon insist their controversial proposal to prohibit developers from increasing the density of new projects for the next nine months has more support than opposition.There have been people from the development community who said this is a good move. We need to take a step back, Menconi said.He and Runyon promised voters they would slow growth in Eagle County when they campaigned last fall. Menconi won re-election, and Runyon was added to the board on a slow-growth platform. Now they plan on making good on their promises.The county planning department is in the process of overhauling the land-use code the Byzantine collection of rules and regulations that dictate how development can occur. The code is expected to be much tougher on growth in ways like limiting development on eye-catching ridges.Runyon and Menconi want to work on the proposed changes without getting swamped in the reviews of development applications, so they proposed the moratorium on upzonings. Commissioner Tom Stone opposes the moratorium and has been a property rights advocate.Menconi said he and Runyon are determined to take steps they believe are necessary to ensure Eagle County remains a desirable place to live. Both are concerned that wont happen if the status quo remains.They cited statistics from the state demographer showing that the population nearly doubled from 22,000 in 1990 to 43,000 in 2000. At the current pace, it is expected to hit 65,000 by 2015.Weve been making decisions for 20 years now that are going to have an effect on our economy and its not going to be positive, Menconi said.In an earlier interview, Runyon said he wants to take steps to lessen the population growth the demographer foresaw. More importantly, he thinks Eagle County residents are ready for those steps.Both scoff at the idea that they are no-growthers. If nothing else was ever approved, there are still 12,000 parcels that can be developed in Eagle County and its towns, Menconi said.Studies indicate job creation will grow even faster than population. Second-home owners and wealthy retirees demand numerous services, such as maids and landscapers.Projections indicate Eagle County might need 36,000 workers from out of the county commuting in for jobs by 2025.You look at these numbers and say the first thing thats going to go is the environment, Menconi said.So he and Runyon want to alter the forecasts with tougher regulations.The proposed regulations could affect the Basalt and Emma portions of Eagle County, as well as open lands in and around El Jebel and the eastern portion of Missouri Heights.For example, if open land in Emma was zoned for one home per 10 acres but a developer wanted one home per six acres, the moratorium would automatically pre-empt the request. In the longer term, developers of a ranch in the Eagle County portion of Missouri Heights might have to mitigate impacts on winter range for elk and deer.Some critics contend the new rules will just drive up the price of housing. Menconi said market forces have driven up the price of housing fast enough.Although Pitkin County has had tougher growth control measures in place for years, Eagle County prices are poised to overtake Pitkin County prices within five years, he claimed.The hearing on the proposed moratorium will be in Eagle on Oct. 4. A time hasnt been announced yet.Scott Condons e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org