Dick Gustafson: My real views on Eagle County open space and affordable housing
Vail, CO, Colorado
The election season is over, finally. There are a few loose ends that need clarifying, however.
An article on Nov. 3 in the Vail Daily inaccurately reported two interpretations of my position. What motivates me to bother to comment at this time is a letter I just received (two weeks after the election) from the Eagle Valley Land Trust.
The letter informed me that a donation had been made to the trust in my “honor” by a “well meaning” donor. Two previous letters had arrived before the election, which I chose to ignore. The timing of this one frankly can’t be ignored. Unless the “donors” responds to this editorial, the names are irrelevant.
The letters appear to be a weak attempt to intimidate me to fall in line and become a “good little soldier” in the donors’ army of ideology.
It didn’t work. I find it tacky and insulting (though I am sure that was the intent). They inspired me to address the two inaccurately reported issues.
The first is that I am not opposed to employee housing. I am opposed to price controls and taxpayers paying for it. Enough said.
The second is that I am not opposed to open space in Eagle County.
The Conservation Land Trust was created during my first term as commissioner. Its purpose was to allow owners to donate property into the trust, forever removing it from development in exchange for an income tax credit. I supported the concept then and still do.
I also support the 84 percent of Eagle County that is open space managed and controlled by the state and federal governments.
Why? Because most of that open space is accessible by every citizen and taxpayer, guest and visitor for hiking, fishing, camping, biking, sightseeing, hunting, etc., with minor rules and restrictions.
When the open space issue was first put on the ballot in Eagle County, I hoped that it would create an opportunity for property to be purchased for the same purposes. I was disappointed.
Ideologues, with personal agenda, took over the trust’s “secret” selection meetings. The results are that we end up with paying for “land locked” private property that benefits no one but the owner. It can’t be seen, walked on, shared, visited or used for any purpose by the taxpayers who paid for it.
Some of the logic for such purchases apparently is to preserve the Western heritage of Eagle County. That undefined goal, taken to the extreme, means the taxpayer must purchase every ranch and farm in Eagle County, while keeping the owners intact.
Doesn’t that smack of feudalism? The king or lord controls the property and the serfs work the land. The only differences are that our “serfs” are paid (handsomely) to give up the freedom of choice, while their neighbors suffer from re-evaluations and higher property taxes. Government control of ownership, in any form, is still socialism.
At a “posting the dots” exercise I witnessed, many properties adjacent to the selector’s property received dots. I can only imagine the various agenda (i.e. blocked views, “not in my back yard,” etc.).
These “dotted” properties are owned by people who have the same rights as their neighbors but are now expected to part with those rights and their property through condemnation or pressure, for the “public’s good.”
That “benefit” usually doesn’t include taxpayer usage, just their money.
Most of these properties lie within obvious development areas, forcing future development to the borders of the community, thus causing urban sprawl.
Where, then, do I stand on open space? I favor open space when the process is open and fair, and when each property selected benefits everyone who pays for it, not just a few with a personal agenda.
I strongly hope this editorial opens the discussion anew and will prompt a reconsideration and a new ballot issue with clear goals and a proper selection process that excludes the idealistic dribble.
I hope is the response that the initiators of those letters wished to provoke.
Dick Gustafson is a former Eagle County commissioner who ran unsuccessfully for commissioner this fall against incumbent Commissioner Peter Runyon.
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