County breaks own land-use plan | VailDaily.com
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County breaks own land-use plan

Steve Pope

Reading in Monday’s Vail Daily about the Eagle County focus on completing a new growth plan, I was struck by the irony of the article appearing so quickly after our commissioners’ decision to spend $6 million on the Eaton land parcel. I’m confused as to how folks from the county can tout the benefits of a plan built on public involvement on one hand and then have our elected county representatives blatantly ignore the plan when they vote to spend our money.As many of you may remember, a key portion of the county process in developing this latest version of our county comprehensive land use plan was a long process to hammer out a supporting plan for Edwards. The development of the Edwards plan started in 1999 and was only completed fairly recently.In municipal planning time frames, the ink is barely dry but the commissioners (or more correctly, two of them) have chosen to ignore fundamental portions of a well-thought-out plan in favor of an emotionally attractive and highly politically manipulated decision to turn a sow’s ear into a promised silk purse.The Edwards plan was pretty clear. For those of you who have not seen it, you can find a copy at http://www.eaglecounty.us/uploadedFiles/commDev/Planning/FinalVisionRPT.pdf. The document notes that the “goals and objectives were developed over the course of months of work with the Update Committee and two open houses and stem from the communities major concerns.” As I remember, the process of developing the plan was not an easy one. It is unfortunate the commissioners chose to cast it aside so lightly.Key tenets of the plan include coordinating the development of Edwards with the county Future Land Use Map. “The FLUM envisions that much of the projected growth will be directed to the towns and to the existing community centers, rural centers and resorts. These areas are well-suited to accommodate growth since they have the infrastructure to serve it, including public facilities and services, private commercial uses and housing opportunities. … By so directing future growth, the county can also achieve many of the other policies of this master plan, including protection of critical wildlife habitat and other key environmental resources, preservation of open corridors between communities and the rural … .” Note the quotation marks. These words aren’t mine. They were taken directly from county documents. The overall intent was to develop Edwards, including the land the county now wants to spend $6 million to keep as open space, as a moderately developed area.The authors of the Edwards plan made a critical observation when they concluded that “as long as economic growth is defined by the number of new jobs created and there is acceptance and desire by the community for growth in the number of jobs, there will be an inherent need for residential growth. The two cannot be separated without serious consequences for the community, such as increased housing costs, increased commuting times, increased traffic, decreased diversity of people and housing types, and ultimately quality of community life.” The overall county plan and the supporting Edwards plan both strongly recognize that Edwards is one of the most appropriate places for future job holders to find newly built housing. Unwisely stopping this development only pushes the needed growth farther out.In a conversation a week or so ago, Commissioner Runyon suggested that I was incorrect when I stated in a previous commentary on this subject that the plan called for the Eaton parcel to be developed as relatively dense mixed use. There is a chance I am mistaken, but I don’t think so. The map included in the Edwards plan clearly lists the Eaton parcel as Site No. 1. The plan’s suggested uses for the parcel include mixed use, commercial, office, and residential high density among other uses would be suitable for the site. “Retail-service commercial uses should be kept close to Highway 6 and designed in such a way as to focus on the pedestrian and create a “Main Street” atmosphere.” The plan does acknowledge that the area around the river and the wetlands to the west of the Eaton parcel should be preserved, but I don’t see any mention of turning the area into a park incarnation of open space by capping a played-out gravel mine with two inches of dirt and grass seed.It is interesting that even the people serving on the Open Space Advisory Committee had mixed feeling on the expenditure of county money to fund the Eaton purchase. The vote of the committee was only slightly in favor of endorsing the purchase at 6-5, and one of the members who voted in favor of preserving the Eaton parcel wrote a column for this paper stating his preference was developing the land now largely taken up by the gravel pit and preserving the part closer to the river. I have it from reliable sources that the vote would have been not to support the purchase if Arn Menconi and Harry Frampton had not put a serious political squeeze on the organization. I admit this is conjecture, but I believe it is true.It has also been suggested to me by Commissioner Menconi and Tony O’Rourke of the Beaver Creek Resort Co. that I should think more closely about supporting the purchase because the towns of Vail, Avon and Beaver Creek support the purchase. I’m not that naive. All of those towns know that Edwards is their strongest competitor for retail business. I would be flabbergasted if any of them would not be in favor of a land purchase that put a stop to Edward’s retail growth. Duh! One of the 10 principles of the Urban Land Institute is that good land planning involves planning “centers of concentrated mixed-use. Offer a blend of commercial, retail, entertainment and recreational space.” (http://realtytimes.com/rtcpages/20041130_smarterburbs.htm) Through this concentrated development, smart governments can then more ably satisfy another key institute principle of protecting appropriate open space outside of developed areas. That’s what the planning process in Edwards envisioned. It was a good plan. We should have stuck to it. But it’s not too late. Let’s back away from this deal. The $6 million can be put to better use helping save other, much higher value pieces of land. If we don’t, we will end up with a lackluster park, the valuable portion of which was already protected, and will only push the inevitable houses and commercial development into places they really should not go. Publisher Steve Pope can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 300, or publisher@vaildaily.com


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