EAGLE — Hundreds of people Tuesday packed the Eagle County Commissioners' first final-approval hearing for a proposed new community in Wolcott. But the plan is still far from approval.
Commissioners said it will take several more meetings to work through the plan. The next hearing is set for April 30 and the commissioners said they will probably not be ready to take public comment in that one.
The county commissioners are taking their third and last look at the proposal. There is no schedule for approval, but developers Rick Hermes and his partners with Community Concepts say they hope to break ground this summer.
Over five and a half years they've slogged through 25 public hearings with various Eagle County boards. They've spent $12 million, so far, and haven't moved shovel of dirt yet.
“It's a tribute to our investors,” Hermes said. “They have homes here and they understand the unique location. “We live in a pretty great place. There's a lot to do here.”
County Commissioner Sara Fisher said it's also a tribute to the hundreds of people who took time away from their jobs to show up on a snowy afternoon. She asked that when the meeting schedule is posted, that it state whether the public will be able to comment. She and the other commissioners agreed that the public will have all the opportunities it needs to make its opinions known.
Hermes and his group have several approvals already, including a 4-3 vote from the Eagle County Planning Commission to recommend the county commissioners final approval.
Earlier this week the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District board voted to provide water and sewer service. Wolcott's developers and residents will pay for it.
“Like our other customers, those who will benefit from the services will have to pay for them,” said Diane Johnson with the water and sanitation district.
Wolcott will create 1,600 jobs to build and staff the planned community. More than 800 of those jobs would remain after construction is finished, Hermes said.
The project parallels Eagle County's Wolcott area master plan. It will start by realigning U.S. Highway 6, moving it away from the Eagle River and closer to Interstate 70, so it doesn't split the community as it does in other areas. That makes Wolcott a pedestrian community, Hermes said.
The plan emphasizes smaller lots, smaller homes and more landscaping, Hermes said.
Wolcott's downtown promenade has the same historical look and feel as Denver's Larimer Square, Hermes said. The plan also includes a barn/community center, and pedestrian paths run throughout the property.
The focal point is the Eagle River, and a mile and a half of limited public access.
Most of the homes are will be moderately priced sized — around 2,000 square feet. When it's completed, Wolcott would be home to about 2,000 people.
In May 2008 the Jouflas family put the property under contract, about the time the county said it wanted Wolcott planned as a single community.
If approved, this would be the second time Wolcott has been a local community center. The town was once a thriving railhead community of 1,500 people called Russell, after one of the early settlers. Ranchers and farmers from the Eagle River and Colorado River valleys brought products to the railhead to ship to the Front Range.
Russell fizzled after the Moffat Tunnel was completed in 1928, and rail traffic was rerouted around Wolcott.
The Jouflas family acquired the ranch in 1924, and has owned it ever since. At one time, the Jouflas family ran one of the four largest sheep operations in country.
Eagle County's population was 51,854 in 2010, and the U.S. Census indicates our numbers are not shrinking. The county's population grew at 2.7 percent per year between 2000 and 2010, and even with the economic downturn, the Colorado State Demographer projects the population to reach 64,070 in 2015 and 72,227 in 2020.
The appetite for consumption that drove the housing bubble is over, says the marketing research firm of Brooke Warrick and Peter Yesawich, in a presentation to Urban Land Institute. They say Baby Boomers have eased away their pre-recession tendency toward consumerism, and now want to focus on personal relationships and community.
Baby Boomers are working later into their lives and that shift could mean that with the right project in the right place, the second home window for Boomers could extend into the late 20'teens, they said.
And that's where Wolcott lives, Hermes said.
It\'s a tribute to our investors