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September 11, 2007
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Edwards earns a West End

EDWARDS " Downtown Edwards will get a more shopping, offices and homes from the 'West End' project, the biggest development the area has seen since Riverwalk.

After ironing out problems with traffic and finalizing plans for affordable housing Tuesday, the Eagle County Board of Commissioners gave it unanimous approval.

The West End bring more shopping to the area, as well as an estimated $8 million in tax revenues to the county over five years, said Midtown Group developer Brian Bair.

County Commissioner Sara Fisher said the final plans for the project, which includes plans to blend in with the adjacent Eagle County Preserve park and construction of 72 affordable homes, is just what has always been envisioned for downtown Edwards.

"This will be a great scenario where you can have lunch, wander through the preserve and make a day of it," she said.

The number of affordable homes that will be created with the development is unprecedented for a mixed-use project, and will set a precedent for other developments in the future, said County Commissioner Arn Menconi.

"This would be the first (project) where the books have been open between the developer and the county. I'm 100 percent behind this project for the reasons of density that provides affordable housing and harmony with the Eagle County Preserve," he said.

The affordable housing component is designed to encourage workers to both live and work in the West End.

The plans also include a 1.5-percent transfer tax on all the free-market homes. The funds from the tax would go to a non-profit organization to be used for affordable housing in the county, said County Housing Director Alex Potente.

The Midtown Group development company plans to start construction on the project early in 2008. Construction is slated to take 18 to 24 months.

County officials had been concerned that the 'West End' would add more traffic to what some say is an already congested area.

Developers agreed to build a one-lane roundabout, bus shelters and a crosswalk on Highway 6. The roundabout would serve as an entrance to the Eagle County Preserve and help slow traffic down, Midtown Group representatives said.

The developers are only required by the Colorado Department of Transportation to build a one-lane roundabout.

County engineers were concerned that future growth and development would require a larger roundabout, so the developers agreed to make designs for a two-lane roundabout that the county would build in the future when funds become available, said county engineer Eva Wilson.

The project also includes a .5 percent sales tax that will go toward non-vehicular transportation in Edwards, such as bike lanes or trails.

Bair said he felt Midtown Group had done more than the project warranted to help mitigate traffic problems. "But we see it as part of a larger part of what's going on in Edwards, and we're looking to be a part of that," he said.

The board was worried that small, local business owners at the West End would find it hard to afford the rent. High rent costs have been a problem in other places in the valley, Fisher said.

"My concern is if small businesses get forced out of an otherwise positive location because they can't afford to stay there," said Sara Fisher.

However, developers said they want to support a mix of local, regional and national businesses. Downtown Edwards core is a growing place that seems to have mostly locally-owned businesses, Bair said.

Commissioner Peter Runyon said that while the proposals for West End were impressive, he was still concerned about adding any new developments to the county. Too many projects have been approved and not enough affordable housing has been planned to balance those projects out, he said.

But West End offered more affordable housing than any previous project and would be very good for the area, he said.

"This is going to be a real amenity to the Edwards area," he said.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Sep 11, 2007 09:16PM Published Sep 11, 2007 09:16PM Copyright 2007 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.