Eagle County Commissioners: We’re responding to priorities
How do we set priorities? It’s an interesting question with many answers. There are things county government has to do: take care of roads, provide law enforcement, land use planning, public health and social services to name just a few. Then there are issues that are unique and important to this community that affect our quality of life. They include things like affordable housing, managing growth, transportation and the environment.
How do we know these are your priorities? You told us. In fact, we called and asked. Last fall we conducted a “Quality of Place” study. A scientifically random sample of 400 Eagle County residents was interviewed by telephone. Although most residents said they enjoy many aspects of life in Eagle County, a good number feel that the high cost of living, expensive housing, urban sprawl, and traffic issues are things that threaten the quality of life in the area.
Good information, and what, as county commissioners, should we do about these concerns? Not only did you rank growth and affordable housing as your two top issues, you specifically said that they can be addressed and hopefully mitigated by local government. That’s us, and here are some examples of how we’re working on it.
In the survey, four-in-five residents agree that requiring new development to provide a significant amount of affordable housing is a good idea. We agree, and that’s why we are developing new housing guidelines for developers. These regulations are designed to create more affordable housing and offset the creation of new jobs that come with development. While the guidelines aren’t final yet, the principles were used in the recently-approved West End project in Edwards and resulted in 72 new deed restricted units.
What else did you tell us to do about affordable housing? Seventy-one percent of you said building 3,500 homes over the next 10 years for low- to middle-income homebuyers through the county’s affordable housing program is a good idea. In addition, two-thirds said that expansion of government-provided deed restricted housing such as Miller Ranch is a good way to address housing needs. We’re working on that too. We’ve invested $4.5 million dollars in the Stratton Flats housing project in Gypsum. The development includes 226 deed-restricted units along with 113 free-market units. Like Miller Ranch, this is an investment. As the units are purchased, we’ll see our money returned with interest. We can then reinvest in even more affordable housing.
You’ve also told us how you’d like to manage growth. To reduce sprawl, 82 percent of you want to establish open space buffer zones between towns and community centers; and 70 percent of those surveyed want us to focus development by allowing higher density projects in those community centers. The majority of you also support limiting the number of residential building permits issued annually for new development and limiting the size of residences. These are ideas and concepts being worked on right now by our community development department, and are being incorporated into planning tools like the Wolcott and Dotsero community plans to ensure growth is managed appropriately.
Transportation and traffic congestion are other areas of concern. Eighty-six percent of you listed it as a priority. Locally, we convened a Transportation Collaborative with representatives from all of the towns, special districts, and the private sector to identify and prioritize needs countywide. We’re partnering with Eagle and Gypsum to find funding for an I-70/airport interchange and overdue improvements to the Eby Creek/Eagle interchange. We’re also working closely with CDOT to improve transportation countywide. As a result of our efforts, CDOT is providing $11 million dollars to make improvements to the Edwards Spur Road/I-70 interchange; and partnering with us to make Highway 6 between Eagle and Edwards safer.
Commissioner Runyon sits on the I-70 Coalition, which is looking at solutions to improve transportation between Denver and Grand Junction, and we’ve started a dialogue with Union Pacific to foster a better understanding of the rail corridor through the county and its potential for mass transit in the future. In addition, we started a free ECO Transit bus pass program for riders 18 and younger.
Seventy-two percent of people surveyed gave public safety in Eagle County a high rating. For that to continue, we have to invest in our justice system and its infrastructure. Our current Justice Center is outdated and cannot keep up with the county’s continued growth. The jail is overcrowded, and the Sheriff’s Office is spending thousands and thousands of dollars just to house inmates in other counties. Our courtrooms are too small and overcrowded for the caseload, causing safety concerns for everyone and delays in judicial proceedings. Facilities are inadequate for the District Attorney, the probation department and the Sheriff’s Office. We’re investing $20 million in these critical facilities to ensure that public safety and the justice system in the county continues its standard of excellence.
We’re doing all this and continue to keep a close eye on how we’re spending taxpayer dollars. The 2008 budget we passed is 16 percent less than last year’s approved expenditures. That’s because during the budget process we ask every department to rethink how we provide services and spend taxpayer dollars.
We thank you for your input in telling us what is important to you, and for helping us set priorities. If you’d like to read the Quality of Place survey results, they are on our Web site at http://www.eaglecounty.us. As county commissioners, we’re proud to serve the community. We’re deeply committed to the trust you’ve placed in us as elected officials, and look forward to working together to make Eagle County and even better place to live, work and play for all of us.
Arn Menconi, Peter Runyon and Sara Fisher are Eagle County Commissioners.
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