$6 million pledged for Edwards open space | VailDaily.com

$6 million pledged for Edwards open space

Tamara Miller
Shane Macomber/Vail Daily Julia Foster pleas to the board of commissioners to support the efferts of the Vail Valley Foundation and protect the our land by giving six million tward the open space in Edwards Thursday in Eagle.

EAGLE – It only takes two to give $6 million. By a 2-1 vote, the Board of County Commissioners agreed to contribute $6 million to help purchase and preserve as open space 72 acres of land in western Edwards, known as Eaton Ranch. Commissioner Tom Stone voted against the proposal. But Commissioners Arn Menconi and Peter Runyon voted to use all of the $3.8 million in open space tax funds, as well as $2.3 million out of the county’s general fund, to meet the request. The general fund is typically used to pay county employee salaries and to purchase standard equipment.When the Vail Valley Foundation announced last fall its intent to raise $12 million to purchase the parcel, Commissioner Tom Stone was in support of it. Stone said Thursday he still supported preserving the parcel, but not by using general fund dollars. The county approved its 2005 budget in December and denied nearly every request for additional staff made by county departments, he said.”I think it’s unfair … to use general fund money for open space on the backs of our employees,” he said. Local residents filled the Eagle County board room for the Thursday night hearing on the Foundation’s request. Several commented on the proposal, and the overwhelming majority were in favor of it.Julia Foster, Eagle-Vail resident and recent transplant from New York City, said she moved to Eagle County for the open space. She urged to county to give the $6 million to help protect the parcel from being developed.”If you want The Gap or The Limited, my old apartment is probably still available,” she said.

A boon for supportersTony O’Rourke spoke at the Thursday night meeting on behalf of the Beaver Creek Metropolitan District. Preserving the environment in Eagle County is essential to the county’s tourism-based economy, he said. “We cannot afford to kill the golden goose,” he said. Dan Gibbs, the local spokesman from Rep. Mark Udall’s office, said the congressman also was in favor of the county’s contribution. “We stand ready to help in anyway we can,” he said.Even a few youngsters stayed up past bed time to voice their support for the project. Siblings Maggie and Teller Emmer walked up to speak with note cards in their hands, to help them state their case. The two said they had spent time on the Eaton Ranch property with their family. “The wind whistles through the leaves and the fish wiggle through the water,” Maggie said. ‘Not the best deal’Even some supporters had concerns, however. The Vail Valley Foundation’s purchase contract involves several strict deadlines, quickening the pace of fund-raising. The group was supposed to make a $500,000 nonrefundable deposit by Jan. 10, but managed to get that deadline extended to Feb. 1 to accommodate the county’s decision. Foundation president Ceil Folz said the effort would die if the county denied the $6 million request.

The group is supposed to close on the property Sept. 1. Runyon said he had tried to negotiate with the ranch owners, Bruce Eaton and Winifred Grimshaw-Edwards, to have that closing date extended. “I’ve failed miserably,” he said. Stone would have liked to extend the deadline, as well, he said. Before issuing his no vote, Stone said extending the deadline to 2006 would have allowed the county to also spend the 2006 open space tax collection on Eaton Ranch. Stone was only in favor of spending open space fund money on the purchase, he said. “This isn’t the world’s best deal,” Runyon said. “The time constraints are annoying.”Runyon attempted to get a unanimous vote from the board by allowing the county to use about 10 acres of the parcel to build a public facility. Foundation officials weren’t interested and neither was Stone.’Where’s Edwards?’Runyon also suggested making the Edwards Metropolitan District responsible for maintaining the land. Edwards residents will benefit most from having that land preserved as open space, he said. “There’s been a lot of discussion about Edwards getting an undue amount of (the county’s money),” Runyon said. “I think there’s some truth to that.”That perception was made evident earlier in the meeting when town leaders from Avon and Eagle came forward with their own comments.Avon councilman Mac McDevitt said Edwards residents should be putting money into the pot, too. Jon Stavney, Eagle mayor, agreed.”Where are the residents of Edwards?” he asked.

Eagle will likely be pursuing open space purchase soon, too, said Kraige Kinney, Eagle town board trustee. He hoped the county would contribute money to that, too, he said.What this meansWhile the Foundation’s fund-raising efforts are far from over, they did receive a significant boost with the county’s support. Ceil Folz, president of the Foundation, said all of the pledges made by private donors were contingent on the county’s contribution. With that contribution secure, she predicted there would be $8 million in the pot by today and $10 million within weeks. “Without the county, we have zero,” Folz said.The county’s $6 million will only be used if the foundation raises the full $12 million. The foundation also has pledged to raise another $2 million beyond the purchase price to pay for improvements on the land. Preliminary plans call for walking paths, a nature center and bathrooms.Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or tmiller@vaildaily.com Vail, Colorado

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