Eagle County gets tough on land use
EL JEBEL, Colorado ” Individual property rights reigned supreme for years in Eagle County, and the county commissioners had a reputation for rarely reviewing a development application they didn’t like. That’s changing.
The county has adopted tougher guidelines in recent years on growth issues such as ridge line development and affordable housing. Now it is working on a growth management plan that could rival Pitkin County’s tough rules on development.
If a growth management system is adopted, it would affect the Eagle County sliver of the Roaring Fork Valley, which includes El Jebel, Blue Lake, and parts of Basalt, Missouri Heights and the Fryingpan Valley.
Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi, who must leave office this fall because of term limits, said he considers installing a growth management system one of the most important acts during his eight years in office.
“It’s definitely come with a great deal of controversy,” he said.
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Menconi noted that Eagle County had been dominated heavily by a philosophy that favored individual property rights. But intense development in the last decade and prospects for substantially more growth have more people concerned about a deteriorating quality of life, according to a survey of Eagle County residents.
A “build-out” analysis indicates there are about 14,700 residences that are approved but not yet built in Eagle County and the towns within the county. In addition, the state demographer has forecast that Eagle County’s population could double in 20 to 25 years.
“That scares the hell out of us,” said Keith Montag, director of community development.
The population was nearly 48,000 in 2004, the latest year available. Much of the expected growth will be luxury second homes, according to forecasts from the state demographer’s office and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. More second homes create more jobs and need for more workers in the county.
Job creation is an ironic issue, Montag said. Most cities and towns in the country covet more jobs. Eagle County and other Colorado mountains resorts react differently.
“We’re not sure we want all of them,” Montag said, noting the biggest problem is where to house the new workers.
Like many Colorado resort areas, the high demand for homes and limited supply has sent Eagle County home prices soaring.
“We’re the last of the Mohicans,” said Menconi. “We can’t even buy back our own homes.”
Menconi’s point was that housing prices have escalated so drastically that many locals could no longer afford to buy housing in their communities if they moved in now.
Confronted with those various growth-related problems, Menconi and Commissioners Peter Runyon and Sara Fisher are looking at new rules that will “balance” property rights and broader community benefits, according to Menconi. The commissioners came to El Jebel recently to outline their vision for growth management to the Roaring Fork Planning Commission, a board that advises them on land-use issues in the Roaring Fork Valley.
One goal of the growth management plan is “to ensure that impacts associated with growth are mitigated and services are provided to meet the demands of the population,” according to an outline supplied by Montag. “It addresses the economic, social and environmental considerations and challenges that arise from growth.”
There are signs that the plan will go beyond ensuring that development pays for its way. “A comprehensive growth management program includes collaboration with the towns and considers the amount, rate and location of growth,” Montag’s outline said.
At the least, development proposals in Eagle County will face new criteria during reviews. They will have to show what they are doing to preserve or offset impacts on the quality of life, Menconi said.