Tony Vagneur: A solution for county confusion

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

One of the big buzzes in the valley lately is the battle between development, the Roaring Fork Valley citizens and the Eagle County Commissioners. How the Eagle Board of County COmmissioners got cast as the villains in this saga is unique, but not atypical of politics in this area.

Way back in the 1990s, a couple of investors, popular with the town of Basalt, bought the area that now contains the Willits Town Center and the housing development to the south. That land was in Eagle County, whose approval for any zoning changes or building permits was mandatory. Naturally, the developers spent a fortune drawing up plans, going to meetings, tweaking this and that, struggling to keep up with escalating costs. In the end, Eagle County turned down their development plan.

The elk could still gather there in the winter, hay fields would remain green in the summer and the vistas from Lee Willits house across the lane would remain pristine and open. Oops, wait a minute — Basalt, chasing valuable City Market sales tax money downvalley (like the proverbial dog and its tail), along with the gun-barrel annexation of the City Market location, added the current Willits site into the mix, creating what at the time was a laughing-stock move by many around the valley.

Basalt, with power now in its corner, approved development of Willits (originally El Jebel Junction, then Sopris Meadows) in 2002, creating an artery-blocking clog of development in the heart of the midvalley. Without apology, mind you. Now Basalt is big on growth control and has bequeathed its development-at-any-cost mindset to Eagle County. Go figure, but maybe it’s because Basalt finally listened to its constituents. Now Eagle County, apparently tone-deaf, is trying to OK unpopular projects in the midvalley with the Tree Farm and The Fields.

A couple of years after Willits was approved, I was appointed to the Roaring Fork Valley Planning Commission, a post I held for about six years, two of them as president. Development proposals for Eagle County during those years were fairly sparse, with the exception of one by Ace Lane (for what is now called his Tree Farm project) and another by a man named Tom Waldeck, who had bought Buddy Cerise’s ranch along Emma Road (next to the Happy Day Ranch). The Roaring Fork Valley Planning Commission recommended denial of those open space-eating big projects.

Summarily, those development applications were denied without question from the Eagle BOCC, their stance at the time being that those of us who lived in this section of Eagle County likely knew more about what residents living here were comfortable with rather than commissioners living a world away on the other side of the mountains.

As someone once said, elections have consequences, and at some juncture it appears the Eagle County commissioners no longer put such common-sense faith in the local planning commission, basically neutering its advisory board by overriding it. Apparently, neither does the BOCC care what the residents on this side of the mountain would like to see in terms of growth and development. That’s a definite consequence.

Given that smattering of history, it’s important to note that today a group of Eagle County residents, calling itself “Our Valley Our Voice,” is working diligently in support of having the adjacent portions of Eagle County annexed into Pitkin County. That would include the areas of Basalt, Willits, El Jebel and portions of Missouri Heights.

Now that is a common-sense idea. Eagle County, beginning to feel the pain of governing in absentia, seems to be for the idea. Pitkin County less so, using outdated financial data in believing the cost of providing service to the new area would not be cost beneficial.

Not to be a wise guy, but how often have you seen the government take the high road by estimating efficiency when spending taxpayer money?

Without local control, the midvalley will forever be at the mercy of “over there.” We no longer function as a valley of independent towns and counties. Our small little corner of paradise is a hodge-podge of activities spanning both Eagle and Pitkin counties. Even Pitkin County offices are contained within the town of Basalt, temporarily, but maybe not, as an effort to accommodate downvalley workers continues.

We can argue all we wish about cost benefits or inequities based on service levels, but such conversations serve basically only to muddy the water. As a group, in this valley, the residents of Pitkin and Eagle counties are generally of one breath, one mind, in one common watershed, and as such, we should make decisions affecting our valley with one voice.

Annexing the southwest corner of Eagle County into Pitkin County is one of those things that people will say, “Why didn’t we do this sooner?” Let’s get with it. Support Our Valley Our Voice.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at