Eagle County takes tougher stand on growth
July 13, 2006
Eagle County has finally given itself the tools it needs to control growth better and preserve a high quality of life, according to County Commissioner Arn Menconi.The county that was once known for “almost” giving developers whatever they wanted will now relax limits on construction only when there is a clear community benefit, Menconi said: “We are here to negotiate on the behalf of the citizens of Eagle County.”The county placed a nine-month moratorium on upzonings last year to buy time to work on new regulations in its land-use code. An upzoning allows developers to increase what they can build on property. The county lifted the moratorium about two months early this year because officials felt enough progress had been made on the new rules.Menconi said it will take a while for the new approach to have an effect. Eagle County has about 26,000 existing residences. Another 16,000 dwellings are approved but unbuilt, according to a county study.But the county government’s new direction will influence what happens on the last parcels of undeveloped land. It is vital that the county coax projects that provide community benefits like schools, affordable housing and open space rather than just second homes, according to Menconi.A study by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments last year indicated that 64 percent of Eagle County’s economy depends on second homes. That includes everything from construction of the homes to service of completed houses by landscapers and maids.”It’s a big driver of our economy,” Menconi said of second-home development. “It’s also had a lot of negative impacts.”He cited skyrocketing real estate prices, traffic and unattainable job generation as negative impacts tied to the second-home economy.”We are losing our community. It’s happening in Basalt and El Jebel, and from Edwards to Vail,” Menconi said. “This trend has clearly accelerated in the last five years.”Eagle County’s overhaul of its land-use code will take tangible steps to try to control growth better. New, tougher regulations control development on hillsides and ridgelines, and establish greater setbacks from streams.The county has also updated cluster regulations that assistant county administrator Keith Montag called “antiquated” in a recent meeting. “You allow someone a little bit greater density if they cluster development and protect the sensitive areas,” he said.There are no steadfast rules prohibiting upzones that don’t provide community benefits. Menconi is making somewhat of a leap of faith that future boards will follow the same philosophy as the current board. When facing overwhelming data that shows the negative impacts of growth, commissioners of all party affiliations and philosophies will require projects to provide clear community benefits, he said.For example, the new code won’t mandate that new projects provide affordable housing. But developers will know they have a better chance of getting their project approved if it’s part of the mix.Menconi is confident the citizens of the county will require their elected officials to make developers more accountable. Residents of the Basalt and El Jebel areas probably already had tougher positions on growth than Eagle County residents because of the influence of Pitkin County, Menconi said. Residents of the Eagle Valley adopted the tougher stance two years ago.”It shifted from personal property right for many years to quality of life,” said Menconi, who is serving his second, and final, four-year term.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.