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Candidates talk about private investment

Scott N. Miller

EAGLE COUNTY – Time’s running short.On Aug. 8, the current six-person field of candidates for Eagle County Commissioner will be cut in half in the Democratic and Republican primaries. That means the six-person field has just two more chances to answer questions.The three candidates who end up on the November ballot will answer a question a week until then. To submit a question to ask the candidates, e-mail smiller@vaildaily.com.This week’s question: Transportation and housing are two of the biggest potential problems facing the county over the next couple of decades. It’s unlikely government can tackle either of those problems alone. What does government have to do to get the private sector involved in these problems?

Housing is becoming an interesting issue. Since development in Garfield County has increased with the oil and gas drilling, some of our work force will find opportunities closer to their homes. Also, as Climax reopens that will draw another part of our work force away. The need to house our work force in Eagle County is paramount. Limits on available land and its high cost require that affordable (attainable) housing must have a higher density to be economical. Favorable economic opportunities will engage the private sector. So we need to reconsider some of our old values. Transportation… out of words.

Hugo Benson (R – Gypsum)Our expected growth will cause employee housing and the related transportation issues to reach a crisis in the next few years.Using Miller Ranch as a partnership model, the county can work with developers and municipalities, perhaps offering incentives to create clustered housing sections where the infrastructure is in place to support that housing, hopefully maximizing current open space. The county could work closely with local employers and share the cost to expand the current ECO transportation system to accommodate current working schedules. We could add a bus as far as Glenwood Springs to connect with the RAFTA bus system.

The county has numerous incentive programs for private enterprise that will result in more lower cost housing. Regulations can require developers to include a percentage of workforce housing in their projects. Deed restrictions can help keep that housing reasonably priced.The economics of transportation will be shaped by rising gas prices. More fuel-efficient vehicles are already available. Mass transportation is the best long-range solution, however. A Colorado Winter Olympics could get the state behind light rail to Vail. The Union Pacific should be encouraged to build a statewide efficient and profitable rail system similar to that in Switzerland.

ECO Transit has an outline of the transportation challenges in their “Transit Vision 2030.” The county must work in collaboration with transit users, businesses and urban centers to understand the needs and nature of the problem. Housing and job location play key roles in this interlocking problem. Housing affordability and proximity can be addressed by looking at increased densities in urban areas, efficient designs involving less square footage, “mother-in-law” units in appropriate areas, reduction of utility connection fees and ways to make construction more economical. I have the time, desire and background to work for reasonable solutions to these problems.

Housing and transportation are the two biggest issues facing Eagle County. Affordable housing is critical for keeping service providers, emergency personnel, teachers and shopkeepers in our county. Traffic is congesting I-70 and we are experiencing ever-increasing backups at our local interchanges. These are huge problems and they demand huge commitments from the towns, the county and the private sector to work together. I believe it is the county’s role to provide leadership in collaborative thinking, the resources and talent needed for long-range planning and creating a visionary atmosphere in which these issues can be addressed and resolved.

Government should be by the people, not of the people, so the private sector should be involved in government. There are no magic answers so government needs to be open to many ideas from the public and work together to come up with solutions. Government should provide roads, infrastructure and incentives for housing, but should not be in the housing business, competing with the private sector. There is a strong desire to limit growth, along with a desire for more reasonable cost housing. Better transportation and more housing bring more growth. Government and the citizens will need to work together to find a balance.=================ClarificationEditor’s note: It took candidate Tom Edwards about a day to send a correction to last week’s answer about the county’s proposed child care tax. In that response, Edwards stated that the Costco store in Gypsum would provide $3 million per year in sales taxes to the county. After a bit of review, Edwards sent the following:The total amount projected to be received by the county would be $1.5 million, of which $1 million would be general sales tax and $500,000 would go to ECO Transit.==========================================Vail, Colorado


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