Edwards RiverPark slated for March 23 decision by Eagle County commissioners

After eight public hearings, the three commissioners will decide project’s fate

Edwards RiverPark planner Dominic Mauriello leads a delegation of Eagle County staff members and officials on a tour of the property last fall. After a series of eight public hearings, the Eagle County Board of Commissioners is slated to take action on the application in two weeks.
Daily file photo

Members of the public last week offered their final on-the-record comments about Edwards River Park, the large, controversial development proposal that’s slated for a vote by the Eagle Board of County Commissioners on March 23.

At the conclusion of the March 9 hearing — the latest in a series of eight public hearings for the proposal that launched back in December — the commissioners closed public comment and set a final hearing date of March 23 for deliberations and action.

Edwards RiverPark is a commercial/residential planned unit development proposal from a group called Sierra Trail Investments LLC. The project is proposed for a 53.7-acre parcel located north of U.S. Highway 6 and south of the Eagle River on land that was formerly the site of a B&B Excavating gravel pit operation. The proposal includes two large condo buildings and a condo/hotel building along with commercial buildings, multifamily residential and townhomes.

In October, the Eagle County Planning Commission recommended approval of the application with 39 conditions of approval. The county planning staff also recommended approval with the addition of three more conditions.

At the launch of last week’s meeting, project planner Dominic Mauriello examined one of the underlying tenants of Eagle County’s land use code. When projects include rezoning requests, the county’s code demands “demonstrated community need” or provisions that result in public benefit. Mauriello maintained that Edwards RiverPark’s workforce housing, transportation improvements, new public amenities and open space provisions demonstrate compliance with the county’s vision. The transportation improvements include a new $5 million roundabout at the intersection of U.S. Highway 6 and Lake Creek Road.

Not everyone agrees with those sentiments.

During nearly two hours of public testimony March 9, Edwards RiverPark proponents and opponents offered their final appeals regarding a project. Some speakers voiced the belief that Edwards RiverPark will bring vitality to the midvalley community. Others voiced fears that the project would result in destruction of their community’s character.

Long term effect

“Land use decisions are one of the most important actions a county commissioner takes,” said Edwards resident Don Welch. He spoke from experience, having served two terms as a commissioner.

Welch questioned whether the Edwards RiverPark plan complies with the area’s master plan. “Does it do anything to meet the quality of life issues mentioned in the Edwards Area Community Plan?” Welch asked. “The people who put the plan together say overwhelmingly that it doesn’t.”

“This application has two fatal flaws,” Joanna Kerwin said. “It does not align with the Edwards Area Community Plan, and its benefits do not outweigh the costs to our community.”

But other residents saw the situation differently.

“I think they are going out of their way to bring massive public benefits,” Jay Nobrega said. “It’s now an abandoned gravel pit. It is a pile of dirt. It is a blight on our community.”

Too big

The scope of the Edwards RiverPark proposal includes 540 units (90 of which are workforce housing units) and 29,000 square feet of commercial space. That reflects a reduction from 590 residential units and 36,500 square feet of commercial space.

But opponents of the plan maintain it is still too large for the Edwards community.

“It’s just way too big and has to be rethought,” Paul Gotthelf said. “The commercial alone in this proposal is just way too big. We already have a struggle trying to keep tenants in place.”

Gotthelf suggested a 90% reduction in the Edwards RiverPark commercial space.

“In my opinion, this development is too excessive for that piece of land,” Ron Mastriana said. “The vision of Edwards is to be a small town. This is not the vision of Edwards.”

“The prized attributes of Edwards will be seriously compromised if this development is approved,” Donald Gogel said. “The qualities that we love about Edwards will never be the same.”

Other speakers said Edwards RiverPark would bring welcome change to the community.

Kristen Sofge said it would be great if Edwards had its own amenities, instead of being a place that people drive through to get to where they want to go. She said the development represents an exciting opportunity for people who want to make Edwards their home.

“The affordable housing plan, that applies to me,” Keegan Stinnett said. He urged the commissioners to consider the needs of future residents, not just current ones, as they debate Edwards RiverPark.

“Density, when done well, can be an economic engine for a community,” Michael Hazard said.

Development impacts

Since its very first public hearing, a number of core issues have characterized the Edwards RiverPark debate. Those issues include traffic along U.S. Highway 6, wildlife impacts in the development area and workforce housing needs. Those concerns were brought forward again Tuesday, and a number of residents also voiced a new objection — fire danger and emergency evacuation.

Kerry Wallace noted traffic backups could result in deadly consequences if a major wildfire ignited in the mountains around Edwards. There is only one way in and out of neighborhoods like Cordillera and Lake Creek ,and the Edwards RiverPark density would exacerbate the problem, she claimed.

“We can’t even guarantee the safety of current residents,” Stacey Botlz said. “Why would we approve anything with this level of impact?”

A number of speakers this week urged the commissioners to deny the plan, claiming it is deeply unpopular with current residents.

“The commissioners should listen to their Edwards constituents who are overwhelmingly against this project,” Sarah Millett said.

“That is what this is all about — trying to hold on to the quality of life that we all value so much,” Dwight Merriman said.

On to the commissioners

With public comment concluded, the commissioners are slated to act on the Edwards RiverPark application later this month. Before anyone even spoke last week, Commissioner Matt Scherr shared a reminder about land use rules.

“Our decision will be made on the standards that you see in the staff review and the staff presentation. Those are the criteria we use to approve or deny a file in any case,” he said.

“The property owner is entitled to develop his property. We don’t have to approve a zone change or dimensional limitation waivers or anything like that. But we have to consider, when an applicant comes before us, what they want to do with their property. We are not in charge of their property,” Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney said.

“I sense some sort of nervousness that maybe we are not paying attention to all the comments or if someone doesn’t speak at every meeting that they are not being heard,” said Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. “I just want to assure folks that we do read every single comment. We don’t count them up like votes, but we certainly read them.”