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Platform discourages growth in rural Eagle County

Dear Editor:

On Tuesday, March 30, the delegates to the Eagle County Democratic Assembly adopted the Eagle County Democratic platform.

Two enthusiastically supported planks discourage new cities from arising in unincorporated rural areas of Eagle County that lie outside town boundaries, such as Dotsero, Edwards and El Jebel. The Assembly asked Eagle County to “refrain from approving urban-style development that is located on land outside incorporated city limits” by a resounding vote of 28-9, with five attendees abstaining. The same question had already received approval of 37 out of 63 delegates voting by e-mail survey.



Two weeks ago, all 22 members present at the Democratic caucus of all Eagle County Roaring Fork precincts unanimously agreed to this and a specific resolution against approving the El Jebel Tree Farm PUD. This means that more than three separate votes have overwhelmingly said “let’s rein in development in rural areas of Eagle County that lie outside town limits.”

At the March 30 meeting proponents of reining in rural development said: It will promote development within incorporated cities where police, fire, school, library and parks facilities already exist; it will prevent sprawl from occurring in rural areas of Eagle County; and it is democratic and enhances accountability – county commissioners are largely immune from voter control when they approve far-flung rural developments that affect a relatively small percentage of the county’s voters. In many cases keeping development within incorporated towns will actually reduce property taxes, since special metropolitan taxing districts are often formed in unincorporated areas to compensate for lack of a town tax base. With the recent downturn, many metropolitan districts are struggling and their members in unincorporated areas have found their property taxes have risen and in some cases doubled, according to Mark Chapin, Eagle County assessor.




People who voted against the platforms or abstained apparently did so because they fear a vote to halt growth, but proponents believe it will simply steer growth to incorporated cities that have the facilities and administrative personnel to handle it. The Colorado state demographer expects Colorado’s population to double from 5 million to 10 million by 2050 regardless, so concerns that this platform will halt growth seem alarmist.

The Tree Farm project in unincorporated El Jebel proposes 320 new homes just north of and across Highway 82 from the Basalt town boundary that snakes its way to City Market in El Jebel. Nine hundred approved homes in El Jebel have yet to be built, so with the Tree Farm, more than 1,200 homes might be added to an area that recently was pastoral and rural. With 3,000 to 4,000 new residents, El Jebel becomes larger than Basalt, Silt, New Castle, Dillon, Frisco, and many other well-established and historic towns. The Colorado Department of Transportation says the El Jebel intersection is the worst between Rifle and Aspen. Add thousands of new residents and you have a ready-made set for a horror movie.

The town of Basalt, Pitkin County commissioners and numerous citizens have requested that the Eagle County commissioners turn down the Tree Farm subdivision, citing cumulative impacts to the area. All have recommended that the developer request approval from and annex into the town of Basalt so that the Tree Farm residents will help pay for the Basalt services they’ll undoubtedly use.

Even though the Eagle County Dems Assembly was open to the public and media, all three commissioners left the room for the half-hour debate on the platform proposals to limit rural growth. They were responding to a technical concern that discussions of the pending Tree Farm PUD application should only be held at formal public hearings. That is unfortunate, since they missed an opportunity to hear how their constituents feel about rural growth in Eagle County.

I hope to see additional opportunities for discussion and balanced research of public opinion on this topic. Commissioners should convene meetings both in the Eagle River Valley and the Roaring Fork Valley to discuss the merits of growth in unincorporated rural areas of the county. They need to hear from the silent majority of citizens who think that development of subdivisions in rural areas is either counterproductive or a mistake.

Ken Ransford

Basalt


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