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Don’t squander precious funds

Don Rogers

Frankly, we think it would be foolish for the Eagle County commissioners tonight to commit $6 million of the $12 million asking price to purchase the 72-acre Eaton parcel in Edwards for open space.To do so, the commissioners would need to dip into the county’s general fund in addition to emptying all of the money in the dedicated open space fund for this year. Even among the gungho open space advocates there is no consensus that spending this much from the county till constitutes “smart growth.” That $6 million amounts to two full years of open space tax revenue to an area that would remain largely open space, especially along the Eagle River front, regardless of what happens tonight. The county must make this decision tonight because the Vail Valley Foundation, which has taken a yearlong option on the Eaton land to see if it could raise the $12 million to buy it, must make a nonrefundable $500,000 payment to the landowners by Feb. 1 to continue to hold that option. The foundation has been crystal clear that without the county’s full $6 million commitment, they can’t risk making this payment. That’s understandable and prudent. The foundation has done a great service opening the door of possibility for the land. But this doesn’t mean the county should break the bank for this parcel.Best advice? Thank the Vail Valley Foundation for its pluck in stepping up to take an option on the land and let it go if the $3.8 million or so in the county open space fund isn’t enough to make the deal work.We can understand the siren’s call to preserve the entire 72 acres and leverage that to save the small portion of developable area of the 105 acres just to the west at any cost. We just don’t think it would be a very smart move for the county to empty the purse for the prime open space land that would remain open anyway. Or to save Edwards from a little more development in an area that’s in the development district.The commissioners surely would rue the high price of Eaton as true opportunities that may not be clear to them today come up. And they likely will come up. Also, buying the development rights to a large property – like, say, the Bair Ranch deal in which $2 million of county open space funds helped protect nearly 5,000 acres near the mouth of scenic Glenwood Canyon – generally goes a lot further in the open space effort than buying entire properties outright.We appreciate that this is a tough call, but wisdom this time dictates taking a pass if providing a third of the money for this deal just isn’t enough. Ballot measure to borrow By contrast, having a ballot question on whether to allow Eagle County to borrow against future open space tax earnings would be great. Arn Menconi, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, suggested this in his commentary Wednesday. We’ll have to think a bit more about whether to support such a venture, but at first glance it seems like a dandy idea. It would help with questions like the one the county commissioners face to tonight, as well as the future opportunities that assuredly will pop up.Drawing up such a measure for Eagle County’s voters to weigh would be wise – certainly wiser than dumping two years’ worth of savings on this one parcel whose prime attributes would remain open in just about any case. Vail Colorado


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