Daily Editorial: Eagle County growth pressure overstated
Vail CO, Colorado
For nearly four years, Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon has sounded a steady drumbeat in his efforts to control growth in the country.
One of the rhythms in that beat has been his claim there are thousands upon thousands of unbuilt homes just ready to be built. He did it yet again in an April 2 column.
Runyon is technically correct. If every private landowner in the county decided to do it, they could come into the county planning department and request building permits for thousands of homes with no further review.
But a closer look shows Runyon’s claim needs a little explanation. Here are just two examples:
In coming up with their number of unbuilt units, county planners have divided up every ranch in the county into 35-acre parcels, which state law allows without any government review. It doesn’t matter where the ranch is, or how many acres of land are vertical or lie in streambeds. It doesn’t matter that groundwater can be difficult, and, in some cases, impossible to find on many of these ranches, or that state well permits can be hard to obtain, too. A 3,500-acre ranch equals 100 ranchettes. Period.
County planners also looked at subdivisions such as Eagle-Vail, where many single-family homes sit on property that legally could be used to build duplexes.
If the last 40 years of Eagle County history have taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. But under current and reasonably forseen circumstances, Runyon’s most recent claim of “10,000 to 14,000 additional second homes already approved but not yet built” has some holes in it.
Honest facts and figures make better policy than just lumping all the county’s vacant land into one pot and inferring that hordes of mansion-builders are itching to build it all.
If officials want to try to change the county’s building rules to require affordable housing to make up half of any duplex that replaces that any single-family home, fine. If they want to try to change the rules regarding development on ranch land, that’s fine, too.
But let’s take these steps one at a time, with a public, forthright debate on the need for action.
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