Eagle County commissioners delve into Edwards RiverPark specifics | VailDaily.com

Eagle County commissioners delve into Edwards RiverPark specifics

For second public hearing, county staff present reasons for ’substantially compliant’ ruling

The Edwards RiverPark development is proposed at this site located south of Interstate 70 and the Eagle River and west of the Eagle River Preserve.
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

The Eagle County commissioners continued their public hearing for the Edwards RiverPark proposal Tuesday with a two-hour session that featured the county planning staff’s presentation detailing the reasoning behind the determination that the project “substantially complies” with the area’s master plan.

The Edwards RiverPark is a commercial/residential planned unit development proposal from a group called Sierra Trail Investments LLC. The project is planned on a 53.7-acre parcel located north of U.S. Highway 6 and south of the Eagle River on land that was formerly the site of a B&B Excavating gravel pit operation. The proposal includes two large condo buildings and a condo/hotel building along with commercial buildings, multifamily residential and townhomes.

Last week the developer’s planning team presented the Edwards RiverPark plan and the commissioners opened public comment regarding the proposal. This week, county staff presented its findings and time was set aside for questions from the commissioners. Public comment will resume Monday, Jan. 19, when the public hearing will continue.

County planning manager Morgan Landers, county engineer Nicole Mosby and environmental policy planner Maureen Mulcahy addressed the staff findings regarding the 24 standards applicable to the project and the 81-page staff report for the application. The three covered a broad swath of issues ranging from traffic, to wildlife, to building heights.

The staff reported that there were three primary public benefits from the plan:

  • Workforce housing
  • Protections of wetlands and riparian areas
  • Construction of a new $5 million roundabout at the intersection of U.S. Highway 6 and Lake Creek Road
This site plan for the Edwards RiverPark shows the new roundabout proposed at the entrance to the development along U.S. Highway 6.
Daily file photo

Workforce housing

The Edwards RiverPark’s workforce housing proposal includes on-site, deed-restricted units and a funding mechanism for future Eagle County projects.

Ninety on-site, deed-restricted rental units and 10 on-site deed-restricted for-sale units are proposed for the development, which staff has determined will meet the county’s requirements. In addition to the actual workforce units, the developer has proposed a 1% real estate transfer fee and a 1% short term rental fee for all market value units in the development with proceeds earmarked for the county housing program. Those charges would bring in an estimated $500,000 annually initially and more than $8 million at build out, according to county staff.

“I understand that you have met the requirements of our housing plan, but I wonder when you bring people to a hotel, how many units will you need for the people who work at that hotel,” said Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney.

“We are far exceeding the county’ requirements,” responded Edwards RiverPark planner Dominic Mauriello. He said the on-site units alone fulfill the development’s workforce housing requirement and noted the ongoing funding through real estate transfer fees will be an important part of the county’s larger housing solution.

“Workforce housing doesn’t grow by itself out of the ground,” Mauriello said. “You have to find a mechanism to built it.”

Wetlands and wildlife

The commissioners also zeroed in on the project’s planning for riparian areas and wildlife. The Edwards RiverPark has proposed 34.72 acres of open space including 33 acres that would be placed in a conservation easement. A 50-foot setback would be applied to wetlands areas and seasonal wildlife closures would be enforced on open space areas.

In response to a question from Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry about proposed deer and elk mitigation on property, Devin Duval of Colorado Parks and Wildlife noted the responsible action was to include as many measures as possible to help animals survive land use changes.

“It’s always a very calculated risk. There there is no shortage of examples in this valley of mitigation measures that have fallen flat,” he said.

Enforcement of conditions and mitigation would be a critical part of the wildlife plan, noted Landers. Duval said getting people to respect seasonal closures and stay out of critical riparian areas is always a challenge.

“Really, our jobs wouldn’t exist if people followed the rules,” he said.

Commissioner McQueeney called out one section of the application that noted it may not be necessary to include mitigation for bald eagle habitat because the raptors don’t always return to nest in the area. “Once we chase the animals away, we don’t have to mitigate for them anymore. I thought that was a sad comment,” she said. “How do we start from a point of protecting animals rather than chasing them off?”

Project character

The commissioners also delved into questions regarding the commercial uses at the site and the larger issue of whether the development meets the spirit of the Edwards master plan.

“There is all sorts of of things with the Edwards Area Community Plan that I can see going both directions,” said Commissioner Matt Scherr. He noted there are objective standards the county uses to make a land use decision, but the planning process also includes subjective judgment.

“This is the part that I am struggling with … I can see going either way,” he said.

“That is the struggle of my every day,” responded Landers. She stressed the county staff recommendation includes both the objective information and the reasoning involved in the more subjective calls. And, she added, there are bigger picture give-and-take discussions. For example, the addition of the U.S. Highway 6 roundabout will have positive traffic impact beyond the development, staff noted.

The commissioners noted their intention to explore the balance between community benefits and community impacts as the public hearings continue.

“I think that is what we are going to come down to in the final analysis,” Commissioner Chandler-Henry said.

Tuesday’s Edwards RiverPark hearing can be viewed at eaglecounty.us/Communications.

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