Vail Daily letter: Homestead open space at risk
June 15, 2013
On July 9, the Eagle County commissioners are scheduled to hear a proposal to remove an open space plat note on Tract K in Edwards and allow the owner to ask to rezone it from commercial general to high density residential. Tract K is the land east of Stags Leap in Homestead and Homestead open space and west of the fire station, ambulance district and post office buildings.
The owners of Tract K, Remenov & Co., have stated that they want to donate the land to Habitat for Humanity for affordable housing. Remenov & Co. has proposed a 16-unit development with parking and a playground on Tract K, a 1.33 acre parcel.
The other developments in lower Homestead have a density of approximately eight units per acre. If approved, this development would be almost twice as dense as the surrounding community.
The application to remove the open space plat note and to change the zoning went to the county Planning & Zoning Commission on May 1 for a recommendation to the county commissioners. After three hours of presentation by Remenov & Co. and public comment, the commission unanimously rejected the proposal.
The commission members struggled with this vote. I believe they wanted to be able to find a way to recommend this proposal to the commissioners, but the way Eagle County designates a parcel as open space made it impossible for them to recommend this to the commissioners.
Make no mistake, this is a land use issue. The planning commission saw it that way. This parcel has had an open space plat note on it since 1980. Those who purchased property nearby did so with the expectation that this property would be open space in perpetuity.
If the owner were asking the commissioners to remove the open space plat note so they could develop they property in any manner, the neighboring property owners would be just as opposed.
In fact, this owner asked the commissioners to do just that about six years ago, and the commissioners turned him down. Now he is throwing the Habitat for Humanity moniker on it in hopes to persuade them into approving it.
There are many reasons the county allows developers to put open space plat notes on lots. Sometimes the lots are not very desirable to build on when a community is planned, and the county likes to see buffers between homes and commercial development. In addition, they like to see green space in communities. Tract K fits both of these. It is in a flood plane, so it is not very desirable to build on, and it acts as a buffer between condominiums in lower Homestead and the business district. There is also an economic incentive for the open space plat note; the annual property tax on those parcels is only $25.
On April 12, Rick Mueller of Remenov & Co. and Rick Plymen came the Homestead Board of Directors meeting and presented their plan to the Homestead community. During the question and answer portion, Mueller stated, "All I want to do is give this property to Habitat for Humanity to build houses on." When asked why he did not just give them the deed to the property and why he was going to all the expense of drawing up plans, he responded "Because Habitat for Humanity doesn't have the resources to do this."
Fair enough. Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit, so that is reasonable. However, neither statement was true.
Remenov & Co. could donate the property to Habitat for Humanity with a simple quit claim deed at the county offices and it would cost them $1.
Remenov & Co. is asking the county for a 4-to-1 ratio for affordable housing credits if they donate this property to Habitat for Humanity. They are also asking that the credits be used in Wolcott, as well. Normally, the credits can only be used in the area where the development is, in this case Edwards.
The staff at the county does not like the 4-1 ratio. At the normal 1-1 ratio, Remenov & Co. would have approximately a $4.5 million affordable housing credit At 4-1 it goes to $18 million. If the credits can be used in Wolcott, the developers there could buy them to offset their affordable housing requirements, effectively creating a 4-1 negative on the affordable housing balance sheet.
It has also been discovered that Habitat for Humanity does indeed have the resources to do the planning. A local firm donates the architectural services and in 2012, Habitat for Humanity had "excess revenues" of $1.4 million.
There are 200 parcels in the county with open space plat notes on them. You may have purchased your house because it was adjacent to or looked over an open space parcel. You may believe that parcel will always be open space. You may be wrong.
You may think this issue does not affect you if you don't live in Edwards, but it does. If you live anywhere in unincorporated Eagle County, an open space parcel that you have come to expect to be open space forever could be in jeopardy.
If the Eagle County commissioners approve this application by Remenov & Co., it will set a precedent. If this application were approved, I would expect other owners of open space parcels to come forward and ask for removal of the plat notes.
The economy is improving, slowly, but it is improving. Development of some parcels that have open space plat notes on them will become more attractive as the economy improves. Do you want that parcel next to your home developed?
If this land use issue concerns you, please make your voice heard. You can call the commissioners at 970-328-8605. You can email all three at firstname.lastname@example.org. Better yet, attend the July 9 meeting and voice your concern.