Eagle County launches public hearings for Edwards RiverPark plan
Local residents question project’s character and impacts on wildlife, traffic and small town character
As the Eagle County Board of Commissioners began its review process for the Edwards RiverPark project on Tuesday, members of the county planning staff introduced the proposal by sharing their conclusion that the plan “substantially complied” with the master plan for the area.
But when given their opportunity to comment on the proposal, more than a dozen Edwards residents vehemently disagreed with that assessment. Instead, they said the Edwards RiverPark plan fails to protect the small-town values promoted in the Edwards Area Community Plan.
Tuesday’s four-hour session was the first in a series of hearings slated for the Edwards RiverPark plan. Both the county staff and the Eagle County Planning Commission, albeit in a 4-2 vote, have recommended approval of the proposal with 42 conditions attached.
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.
Highlights of the plan include:
- 540 residential unit
- 238 condos
- 20 duplexes
- 182 hotel/condo units with up to 100 lock-off bedrooms
- 36,500 square feet of commercial space
- 20,000 square feet of meeting room space
- A central plaza
- A 250-seat outdoor amphitheater
- A new $5 million roundabout at the intersection of U.S. Highway 6 and Lake Creek road, which would be the entry to the new development.
- 34.72 acres of open space including 33 acres that would be placed in a conservation easement.
- A trail system connecting the development to the adjacent Eagle River Preserve property.
To achieve that proposed density and accommodate proposed underground parking, the Edwards RiverPark has proposed four-story, 75-foot tall condo and condo/hotel buildings, and those building heights were one of the often-cited concerns with the proposal.
One of the central tenets of the Edwards RiverPark plan is a workforce housing proposal that includes on-site, deed-restricted units and a funding mechanism for future Eagle County projects.
In his presentation of the Edwards RiverPark proposal, planner Dominic Mauriello noted that workforce housing is one of the largest issues facing Eagle County. The county’s own housing needs study shows that by 2025, there will be a need for nearly 6,000 additional workforce units. By 2030, nearly 8,000 additional units will be needed.
“We are all acutely aware of the housing problem,” Mauriello said.
Edwards RiverPark has proposed 90 on-site, deed-restricted rental units and 10 on-site deed-restricted for-sale units. In her analysis of the proposal, Tori Franks of the county housing department said the value of these commitments nets the project 176.5 housing credits. Mauriello said that application of the county’s regulations would only require 135 housing credits from Edwards RiverPark.
But on top of actual units, the project 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, Franks said.
“We see a real chunk of value with that transfer fee,” Franks said.
The workforce commitment is just one of the benefits the project brings to Eagle County, the development team stated. The proponents noted that in excess of $43 million will be generated for local government entities in the first eight years of Edwards RiverPark development including the following:
- Eagle County: $15 million including $7.5 million to Housing and Development Authority
- Edwards Metro District: $3.5 million
- Eagle County Schools: $5.5 million
- Eagle River Fire: $3 million
- Mountain Rec: $900,000
- Colorado Mountain College: $900,000
More than 416 pages of public comment are part of the Edwards RiverPark application. An online petition opposing the plan has drawn hundreds of signatures.
In these COVID-19 times, actual attendance at Tuesday’s hearing was limited. Instead, dozens of interested community members tuned into ECGtv to follow the discussion. After signing up ahead of time, they remotely offered their comments regarding the proposal.
There wasn’t a single comment offered in favor of the plan Tuesday. Instead, Edwards area residents voiced opposition to the proposed building heights, density and development character as well as impacts to wetlands, traffic and wildlife.
“It’s just a mined-out gravel pit that hasn’t really be reclaimed and I don’t think putting 85-foot tall (the original height proposal from the developer) buildings there is an appropriate reclamation of the land,” said adjacent, long-time landowner Gary Calhoun.
Calhoun also questioned the workforce housing plan, arguing that most of the people who need a place to live would have to work two jobs to afford an Edwards RiverPark unit.
“They haven’t done anything to protect the wildlife,” Calhoun added.
“You are putting over 1,000 people next to a critical wildlife area,” said Chris Neuswanger, an Edwards resident who has been a vocal opponent of the Edwards RiverPark proposal.
Neuswanger noted he was a member of the steering committee that revised the Edwards Area Community Plan in 2016. He argued the project does not reflect the plan’s vision for the future of Edwards. Several speakers on Tuesday night reinforced Neuswanger’s contention.
Former Eagle County Commissioner Don Welch said the plan is too big, too dense and too tall and does not fit with what Edwards is today and what residents want for the community’s future.
“It’s up to us to protect the environmental quality in Edwards,” offered resident Kara Heide. She questioned the proposal’s impact on water resources in the valley “The drought we have experienced is not an anomaly, folks,” she said. “How will a development of this size affect this precious resource?”
Joanna Kerwin, a 12–year resident of Eagle County, said the developer blatantly disregarded the Edwards master plan with the Edwards RiverPark proposal. “If this land was economically viable in accordance with the 2017 Edwards Area Community Plan, it would likely have been purchased by a local developer,” she said. “It is not our community’s responsibility to approve non-conforming projects so a developer can profit at our community’s expense.
“Edwards is not downtown Denver,” said resident Teri Lester. “The Edwards RiverPark does not have small town scale with its four-story buildings.”
“Obviously, there is overwhelming opposition to this project,” said resident Morris Wheeler. “We do not need a Westin-size hotel with 300 units and and conference center and a public performance space. I honestly don’t see it.”
After more than two hours of public comment, the county commissioners tabled the Edwards RiverPark file until Dec. 15. At that time the public hearing will proceed with continuation of the staff report of the plan, commissioner questions and additional public comment.
Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry noted that the meeting format for the Edwards RiverPark public hearing was a bit challenging.
“I appreciate people’s patience. It is certainly not as easy to be on the screen as it is to be in the room with one another,” she said.
The entire Edwards RiverPark public hearing can be viewed at the county’s website.
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