Time has passed for expanding Pitkin County

Tony Vagneur recently described the idea that Pitkin County should annex Eagle County’s Roaring Fork midvalley as a “common-sense idea” because “in this valley, the residents of Pitkin and Eagle counties are generally of one breath, one mind, in one common watershed” and because the Eagle County commissioners live “a world away on the other side of the mountains.”

There’s an oft-overlooked downside to moving a county line: an exit tax imposed by law on affected landowners. It must be paid off in at most three years, so if Eagle County has much debt, midvalley landowners could get whacked with a significant hit on top of their regular property taxes. No one knows how big this tax would be. It’s nice to fantasize about having ZG license plates, but wouldn’t you like to know how much extra they’d cost?

As to us being of one mind, that’s debatable. Much of the remaining Pitkin middle class lives in subsidized housing. This voting block is subject to financial/political pressures not shared downvalley. The dilution of power they’d experience by thousands of voters being added to Pitkin’s rolls might not lead to happy choruses of “it’s a small world after all” at election time. Rachel Richards was right recently in observing that the “love-hate” relationship between mid and upvalley folk could be exacerbated by a Pitkin takeover.

And don’t assume Pitkin would be tougher than Eagle on projects like The Fields and Tree Farm. The push for increased midvalley density comes from the midvalley, not Eagle. Our planning commissioners are local, not “a world away.” Their revised midvalley master plan expressly calls for concentrated development and increased density along Highway 82. That’s more of The Fields and the Tree Farm.

Basalt agrees. Its representatives have urged the concentration of dense, urban development along 82. ouncilman Auden Schendler made it plain earlier this year when he wrote that “we need to embrace density.” So if you think that moving the county line would slow the urbanization of the 82 corridor by trading the benign neglect of Eagle for the enlightened stewardship of Pitkin, guess again.

And what about Carbondale, which according to some is the new home of the messy vitality that used to infuse Aspen? If the one-watershed concept has any value, leaving out Carbondale (or Marble for that matter) doesn’t make much sense.

It may be that the governmental boundaries we live with are balkanized accidents of history and not what one would draw given a blank slate. But they work. That’s why moving this particular county line would solve nothing.

It would not solve the perennial conundrum of balancing development and preservation. It would impose unknown costs on taxpayers. It would disrupt established balances of competing interests in the valley. It would fail to include a vital, and perhaps ultimately the most promising, community in the valley. It’s a nice, romantic vision, but like the Aspen of old, its time has passed.

Barry Vaughan

El Jebel