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Close to buying Eaton

Don Rogers

The Vail Valley Foundation reports that they are just $300,000 away from having the $12 million they need to buy Bruce Eatons 72 acres next to downtown Edwards for open space.The achievement is remarkable, aside from tapping all of Eagle Countys open space fund and $2.2 million more in general fund money for land thats just not all that valuable as open space. But credit that hasty decision on the new majority of county commissioners, Peter Runyon and Arn Menconi.The Edwards community itself hasnt contributed much, either $750,000 from the Edwards Metro District is the only pledge worth nothing. Such a deal for Edwards. Not so great, I fear, for the rest of the county. But history will bear this assessment out as true of false. If Wolcott develops, or the Scudder-Webster couple of thousand acres up Lake Creek, or the over 600-acre Edwards Overlook doesnt get traded for other land that will be attributable to squandering money on Eaton, on what should be an in-fill development with a greenbelt for the quarter of a mile of that land which runs along the Eagle River and truly merits protection. That is, if smart growth means anything other than a couple of words to throw quotes around. Here, the very phrase should merit smirks all around.Some of the very people who have used these words most often Arn Menconi and foundation President Harry Frampton have pretty much proved the concept meaningless. I mean, if the gravel pit is not the very epitome of a land to develop as part of the larger smart growth concept, a better example of in-fill does not exist. Thats part of whats so vexing about Menconi and Runyons insistence on blowing their entire open space fund AND the general fund money not on valuable open space land but something very different. I believe the best thing that could happen for the county is for this sale not to go through and the county to get its $6 million back. Then, if developer Rick Hermes, who has the option on the 105-acre B&B land just west of Eaton, winds up buying Eaton, the commissioners make sure he has a proper greenbelt along the river through Eaton before it opens into those lovely wetlands and flood plain thats truly valuable as open space.But you have to know thats not going to happen. Ego, earnest money and cussed stubbornness will not allow anyone to concede they might have made hasty commitments or to otherwise back off. Oh, theyll bluster on about their wisdom, but theres been enough in the background for me to read misgivings: An open space committee that suggests their split recommendation for wasting open space funds would swing the other way against if they voted today on it. Runyon looks, so far in vain, for a public facility that would at least tactily recognize the foolishness of making the gravel pits area next to Edwards busiest corner dead space. Those lovely pastures east of Eagle, with better open space and riverside value, Wolcott, Ginnturn and some others could use commitments more than the middle of Edwards. The other part, probably the most important, is that thowing money away on the gravel pit so soon after the controversial spending on Bair Ranch (which we support wholeheartedly) will make it a lot harder to get the countys voters to approve future borrowing against the countys open space fund to make a bigger dent in the larger open space effort.And now with revelations of Menconi and Runyon failing to consider alternative options for the Eaton land in a publicly transparent way, trust in them is sinking further. How they could go for being queried invidually in private about an offer from Hermes to buy part of the gravel pit in exchange for access to the pretty land in that area is beyond me. Yes, I know, they say they have not spoken about this with each other, which would make something sordid genuinely illegal, too. Geez, call a meeting, reject it in public, and move on. Hermes plan is a better one than what they are doing, although not by much. It would still waste $6 million in county funds. But at least it would tie the gravel pit to the pretty land just to the west that all these good folks seem to think they are saving. And yes, those 85 acres Hermes would give up, well, he probably cant build on them anyway. But they would be accessible this way. Under Plan A, the pretty stuff remains off limits to the public.Now, I have to say I like Plan C, too. That is, the foundation and county get the Eaton parcel and then get Hermes to sell them the B&B 105 acres, too, ideally for a song. Good luck. But if they could do that, it would be a little more palatable.The worst scenario is the foundation and county buy the gravel pit and Hermes manages to get the permits to fill in the flood plain and build on the pretty land. I dont see that happening. But it helps illustrate the commissioners foolishness. At least in my mind.So Im disturbed at the waste of taxpayer money which frankly Edwards should be footing. Im disturbed at seeing vaunted smart growth fundamentals trashed by the very people who tout them. Im disturbed at the secret dealings with a controversial effort by two commissioners, which only adds to my concerns raised in the ouster of former County Administrator Jack Ingstad. And Im disturbed at the thought of what else these guys might be keeping from us, that pesky public whose dollars they are spending.


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