What will Eagle County commissioner candidates do for mid-Roaring Fork Valley?
There’s a joke among political junkies in El Jebel and Basalt that they only see elected officials from Eagle County during campaigns.
Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry has tried to break that stereotype during her three years in office. Since she was appointed by the Democratic party to fill a vacancy in 2013, she’s been coming to Basalt on the second Wednesday of every month to meet with constituents at Saxy’s Cafe.
“It took about two years for people to say, ‘Oh, yeah, I see you over here,’” Chandler-Henry said.
She won election in 2014 but is running again this year to keep the terms staggered. She is facing a challenge from Republican Rick Beveridge for the District 2 seat.
Beveridge said he is no stranger to the Roaring Fork Valley, either. He coached in the Three Rivers Little League, which utilized the ball diamonds at Crown Mountain Park. He’s also spent a good deal of time campaigning in the Roaring Fork Valley and ran an advertisement and made a Facebook post Wednesday that pledged, “Hey Roaring Fork residents … I won’t forget you! I’ll make sure you are represented fairly!”
He touts his ability to get affordable housing built, something he said the current county commissioners have failed to do.
The Eagle County commissioner District 1 race also is contested this year, with incumbent Democrat Jill Ryan facing a challenge from Republican Michael Dunahay.
The Aspen Times asked each of the candidates to comment on what they will do specifically for their constituents in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county, which accounts for roughly 17 to 20 percent of the county’s population.
District 2 candidates
Kathy Chandler-Henry: While many issues in the Roaring Fork Valley are the same as in the Eagle River Valley, Chandler-Henry noted a major difference.
“There’s a different feeling about growth,” she said.
Roaring Fork Valley residents are more vocal with concerns of keeping open spaces and character while still providing affordable housing, she said.
The current three-member board of commissioners has heard testimony that clashes on those issues. Projects such as Ace Lane’s Tree Farm project and The Fields, both in the El Jebel area, have pitted an audience majority concerned about growth and affiliated consequences, such as traffic, and minorities who felt growth was worth the gain in affordable housing.
Lane’s Tree Farm project is on hold. The Fields project is scheduled to be reviewed by the commissioners later this month.
Chandler-Henry cannot comment on specific projects before the board. However, she said the board is committed to listening to what residents have to say and incorporating opinions into their decisions.
She said she believes the county must focus growth, including affordable housing, within the town of Basalt’s 3-mile growth boundary.
Chandler-Henry supports a three-tenths percent sales tax increase for affordable housing that Eagle County placed on the November ballot. It is projected to raise $5.4 million annually for affordable-housing initiatives throughout the county. It would cost an estimated $49 per capita. She said the county would work with the town of Basalt and county residents in the Roaring Fork Valley on affordable-housing priorities.
Chandler-Henry also touted the county’s record of devoting open space funds to western Eagle County. It worked with Pitkin County Open Space and Trails and Basalt on the Glassier, Saltonstall and Emma Ranch purchases or conservation easement acquisitions. That has preserved a large swath of the Emma area.
She also noted that contributing funds toward the Pan and Fork purchase in Basalt is a possibility, though no formal vote has been taken. She said she felt the open space advisory board and county commissioners would “look kindly on it.”
Eagle and Pitkin counties have each conceptually agreed to $400,000 contributions, though formal votes must still be taken.
She supports a ballot question that would extend the existing property tax for the open space program to 2040. It is currently set to expire in 2025.
Rick Beveridge: Beveridge said a major focus for him is getting affordable housing built. He’s been involved in building it in the private sector, and he believes Eagle County would be better off removing barriers for developers of affordable housing than trying to build it itself. Therefore, he doesn’t support the proposed sales tax increase for affordable housing.
Beveridge said he met with the developers of The Fields, a project that combines free-market and affordable housing in the El Jebel area, and learned about their situation. He feels they are facing an “unreasonable” requirement by the county to mitigate traffic, he said. They proposed a $1 million solution to issues on Valley Road. The county engineer said they had to contribute $3 million for a roundabout, according to Beveridge.
“It’s putting the past 30 years of development on them, and that’s not fair,” he said.
While campaigning the Basalt and El Jebel area, Beveridge said most of the comments have been about traffic and lack of affordable housing. He believes providing affordable housing closer to where people work, primarily the Aspen and Snowmass Village area, will help reduce the time workers are commuting.
“I am open to development opportunities that make sense in Eagle County,” Beveridge said.
He acknowledged that the slow-growth sentiment is greater in the Roaring Fork Valley compared with the Eagle River Valley. The commissioners face tough decisions on preserving character and providing affordable housing.
“I think there’s got to be a balance. I would weigh each option but my (focus) is affordable housing,” Beveridge said. He later added that he wouldn’t discard any options, but felt “growth is inevitable” with the popularity of Colorado and its mountain resort regions.
He supports the open space tax, though he feels the question could have been crafted better. The county should have asked for separate funding for trails, he said.
Beveridge also contended Eagle County shouldn’t have made a conceptual pledge for $400,000 to help with the Pan and Fork purchase until after Basalt voters determined whether to buy the property.
District 1 candidates
Jill Ryan: Ryan won election in 2012 thanks to resounding support in the El Jebel-Basalt part of the county. She said she’s stayed in touch with constituents in the Roaring Fork Valley over the past four years.
Partnerships with Basalt are critical to addressing affordable housing and child care issues in the Roaring Fork Valley, she said. A study shows that 4,500 units of affordable housing are needed countywide to satisfy the demands of the workforce, according to Ryan.
She supports the sales tax for affordable housing so that the county can apply the revenue to solutions.
“We could make a difference pretty quickly over here,” she said.
Regarding the battle over the demands for affordable housing versus the desire to preserve character, she said the county should honor Basalt’s urban growth boundary and aim to build projects near transit and other services. She said it is vital to honor the wishes of constituents from the Roaring Fork Valley on land-use matters as well as other issues.
“This board really wants to do what this community wants,” Ryan said.
That said, she feels Eagle County must do something to prevent young people from moving away. A disproportionate number of people leave the county at around age 32 because of the lack of affordable housing and greater opportunities elsewhere, she said, citing a study performed for the county. That ongoing loss harms the work force, Ryan said.
Ryan also feels the county could ease regulations on developers. For example, it must reconsider if the requirement that 25 percent of residential units be affordable housing is too onerous.
“I think it is,” Ryan said.
Like Chandler-Henry, she pointed to Eagle County’s work over the past four years to help preserve land in the in the Emma area as a success story. She supports extending the open space tax.
Michael Dunahay: Dunahay believes he has a special connection to the Roaring Fork Valley. He visited Aspen for the first time in the 1960s, then lived there for about one year in 1972 as a 19-year-old house painter.
Living in the Colorado mountains helped form his environmental ethic. “We sort of started the ‘not in my backyard’ movement,” he said. But as time went on and he became a businessman, he realized NIMBYism doesn’t work, he said. There are too many needs to address to simply say land uses cannot be allowed, he said.
“I’m an environmentalist and always have been,” Dunahay said. “But I’m also a realist.”
Providing affordable housing is his top priority. He believes that can be accomplished while still preserving wildlife habitat and open space.
As a Republican, he is opposed to tax increases, he said, but if Eagle County residents choose to approve the sales tax for affordable housing, he vows to spend the funds responsibly.
One idea is to use the funds to buy additional U.S. Forest Service property adjacent to Crown Mountain Park. The land could be used for affordable housing while existing, unused buildings could be converted into child care, he said.
Dunahay has maintained a connection to the Roaring Fork Valley. He lived in Basalt last fall and part of the winter. He explored a property investment but ultimately didn’t pursue it.
More recently, he participated in a Wilderness Workshop project to remove unneeded barbed wire fencing from national forest near Buttermilk ski area.
While meeting people while campaigning, Dunahay said he learned about concerns over traffic in the midvalley. The county currently has a plan to install a roundabout on El Jebel Road north of Highway 82, he noted. Crawford Properties, which is building affordable housing in the area, is contributing a substantial amount of funds to the roundabout, he noted.
Dunahay said he wonders if money would be better spent adding a dedicated turn lane onto Highway 82 westbound from El Jebel Road. That would be a potential way to alleviate traffic and allow the Crawfords to use their money for additional affordable housing, he said.
Dunahay said he will think “outside the box” to solve issues facing the county. And he will keep the Roaring Fork Valley in mind while making decisions as a commissioner, he said.
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