Fisher, Alexander square off for Eagle County BOCC seat
BASALT – Eagle County Commissioner Sara Fisher will learn next week if a 2009 dispute with slow-growth advocates from the mid-Roaring Fork Valley will haunt her re-election bid.
Fisher, a Democrat, is facing a challenge from Claudia Alexander, a Republican who has focused on fiscal restraint and job creation in her campaign. They are fighting to win election in District 3, which includes the Basalt and El Jebel areas.
Fisher butted heads with Basalt officials and development foes in September 2009, when she voted to give first-round approval to Ace Lane’s Tree Farm project in El Jebel. Fisher was the swing vote after Commissioner Peter Runyon made his opposition to the project known and Commissioner Jon Stavney indicated his support.
Fisher sided with Stavney on a proposal for 319 residences and 96,000 square feet of commercial space. The project will be reviewed a second time, in more detail, by the county commissioners, then must meet technical criteria for final approval.
Fisher defended her decision Tuesday and said voters need to judge her on more than just the Tree Farm vote. While campaigning four years ago, she said she understood that Roaring Fork Valley residents of Eagle County were probably more growth control-oriented than residents of the county as a whole, and that she would listen to their views. She said she has lived up to that commitment.
“There have been a handful of development files in the Roaring Fork Valley that I’ve voted on since taking office as county commissioner and all but the Tree Farm have been turned down,” Fisher said. “My reasons for giving approval to this sketch plan [for the Tree Farm] center on the opportunity for locals to own and live closer to employment locally and up-valley. This development is right where it should be, on the Highway 82 corridor, making it walk-able to services, recreation and transit.
“I listened to the people who want to own and live in this community, not just those who want to keep it for themselves,” Fisher added.
When Lane’s project was reviewed, the Basalt Town Council asked Eagle County to deny the proposal and force the developer to seek annexation into the town. Council members contended that urban-style development belonged in town.
The town was asking for an action that wasn’t legally possible, according to Fisher.
“We, Eagle County, don’t have the power to force a property owner to annex – it is their decision,” Fisher said. “And, we can’t or couldn’t deny the file based on that request-demand from Basalt. What we could do, and what we did, was place conditions on the approval to address the town and the community’s concerns.”
Alexander was not familiar with the specific review of the Tree Farm. However, she said it is critical to listen to the constituents of an area to learn how they feel about land use and other issues facing their part of the county. She said residents in different parts of the county bring different perspectives to issues, which she could honor.
“What fits for Vail isn’t going to fit for the Roaring Fork Valley,” she said.
That said, Alexander isn’t touting a no-growth theme. One of her central platforms is “jobs, job, jobs.”
“We need to bring opportunity to people who live here,” Alexander said.
Fisher said she hopes she doesn’t lose any votes over her stance on the Tree Farm. Ironically, it apparently didn’t earn Lane’s support. His property across Highway 82 from the Basalt City Market has showcased banners for Republican candidates for years. This election cycle is no different. One banner promotes Alexander.
Fisher said she has represented the Roaring Fork Valley corner of the county “with commitment and conviction.” She is Eagle County’s representative to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and has a stellar attendance record at the bus agency’s monthly meetings over the last few years. Before winning election as commissioner, she served as Eagle County clerk and provided services to the Roaring Fork Valley.
Alexander said she doesn’t believe Eagle County government has done a good job representing the Basalt and El Jebel areas. County officials take the tax money “but they’re not present,” she claimed. She vowed she would visit the Roaring Fork Valley every other week if elected.
That has been a frequent campaign pledge by county commissioner candidates, but most of them quickly tire of driving 60 miles one way for meetings that attract only a handful of constituents in El Jebel. Most county commissioner meetings are in Eagle, though the board traditionally holds hearings in El Jebel on major land-use applications that come up in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county, such as the Tree Farm.
Alexander said residents of Basalt and El Jebel have told her while on the campaign trail that “they’re the red-headed stepchild” of the county “and they don’t get attention.” She believes regular visits to the Roaring Fork Valley will remedy that.
Alexander also stresses to voters that she will be tight with the purse strings. The county commissioners are paring down the budget now as a result of the recession and prospects for property taxes to plummet in 2012. But spending was out of hand before the recession, she claimed. She cited numerous examples of what she thought was wasteful spending, such as devoting more than $1 million to day care after voters rejected a dedicated tax. She was also critical of a $5.5 million recycling center at the landfill.
“As a fiscal conservative, I’m not going to vote for stupid spending stuff,” Alexander said.
In a separate interview, Fisher pointed to the recycling center as an example of how the commissioners have made wise investments in the county’s future. In the Roaring Fork Valley, the county funded a much-needed road and bridge facility where it can store and maintain equipment.
The commissioners’ priorities have changed in the last couple of years, Fisher said. The board is now paring down the budget in anticipation of falling revenues. Roughly $12 million has been cut from the county’s budgets this year and in 2009, she said. She believes the commissioners deserve credit for their adjustments to the budget.
Both Fisher, 54, and Alexander, 62, live in Gypsum.
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