Aiming for Berry Creek utopia |

Aiming for Berry Creek utopia

Don Rogers

The commissioners and staff have help, and lots of it. The school district, community college district, affordable-housing developer, downvalley recreation district, metro district – who have we forgotten?

On these 200-plus acres of formerly horse pasture – the neighboring plots called Miller Ranch and the Berry Creek 5th – the county is orchestrating 282 units of affordable housing in the form of single-family homes to condos, a genuine Eagle County campus for Colorado Mountain College, Edwards’ first true ball fields, a park with a large pond, a child-care facility and a proposal for a recreation-community center that would include an NHL-standard ice rink, swimming pools and room enough for convention-style gatherings or athletic events under a roof.

Let’s not forget the middle school already on the land, the cancer center and medical clinic just up the hill, or the burgeoning locals’ shopping villages around the corner from this land. There’s even dedicated open space here.

The school district may well wind up building an elementary school and perhaps even a high school here if growth continues on the projected track toward another doubling of Eagle County’s population, as it did in the 1990s alone.

The trophy home boom may be over for the speculators, but this millennial pause in overall construction has already burst with the start on the nearby Village at Avon, which need we remind will double the size and population of Avon before it’s through? Vail is poised to rebuild to the tune of about $1 billion in the next handful of years. Eagle and Gypsum have several subdivisions edging toward breaking ground, and some well on their way, considering Eagle Ranch and Chatfield Corners, to name two.

The easy money for high-end, high-profit development may have receded, but there remains quite a ways to go before true build-out occurs. The likelihood is that residents will have lots of reason to cheer the passage of an open space tax to provide more greenbelts along the I-70 corridor and especially in higher country.

It’s a little difficult to feel a lot of sympathy in this affordable housing boomlet for the “poor” property owners who counted on the soaring housing prices – ownership and rentals – that come with a lack of affordable supply.

If it’s any comfort, they can ultimately count on the highest return on their rentals and resale on homes over time as the chronic labor shortage pinches hard again with the new hotels and stores coming on line. Eagle County continues to have the tightest rental market and nearly the highest home prices in the state, and country. Short answer for these critics: You have been very, very spoiled.

In any case, deed-restricted ownership isn’t likely to provide that feared competition with the fair-market housing. However the calculation goes with the Berry Creek housing, for example, only a subset of buyers who are priced out of other housing will take advantage of the deed-restricted opportunities.

Incidentally, the two competing ideas for capping the Berry Creek homes’ rise in value are both wrong, in our view. The minority opinion of Commissioner Arn Menconi to lock the annual potential rise at 3 percent and Commissioners Michael Gallagher and Tom Stone’s approval of a floating cap tied to the rise in wages would be improved with tying a cap to a standard index of inflation instead. Using inflation as a guide is more sophisticated, and accurate, than merely wage percentage increases, and the equity gain would be fairer to the homeowners who might be able to trade up at some point while keeping the housing in the future at roughty in the affordable range of today.

As for the Colorado Mountain College campus to come, we can’t emphasize enough that the aesthic value of the buildings themselves matter to the future of the college, as well as to Berry Creek.

To the planners at the college and decision-makers, please resist the temptation to go cheap in the short run. It’s the long term that matters, for enrollment as well as other values. Building to the LEEDs environmental standards is a good idea, as well, for the example it sets for the future. All the more reason to make sure the campus is built to higher architectural bar than, say, the nearby Texaco station.

The proposal for the comprehensive – and, apologies to the far western end of the county – centrally located recreation-community center is fanning those flames of resentment surrounding unincorporated Ed-wards. Town folks see the largest population center getting the perks without the burdens of being a municipality. People in Edwards note they’ve been ignored in the recreational facility department for a long, long time.

The idea to build the center at Berry Creek, largely on revenue bonds ala airport improvements and engage a firm to run it, remains a good one, though. Don’t forget those projections of growth to come.

Still, the point is well taken. The measures at Berry Creek are worthy, even breath-taking as an example of what apt local government can achieve. But the county government has to also remember its responsibilities to the whole of the county, as well.

As the constituents who live outside Edwards will remind them, the boundaries extend well beyond utopia.


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