Eagle County commissioners approve Edwards RiverPark plan
After months of public hearings and intense community interest, commissioners state project’s public benefits will outweigh impacts
The long wait for a decision on Edwards RiverPark is finally over. In a unanimous vote, the Eagle County commissioners approved the large development project Tuesday.
The green light came after a last-minute offer from the development team at an Oct. 7 meeting to increase the number of deed-restricted housing units to 270 total and lower building heights to a maximum of 70 feet.
With those latest revisions, the commissioners unanimously agreed the proposal’s benefits would outweigh its impacts.
Located west of the Edwards spur road and north of U.S. Highway 6 on a 55.27-acre former gravel pit site, the Edwards RiverPark project has been the focus of 13 public hearings that began last spring. When the commissioners’ deliberations during an Oct. 7 hearing suggested the application was headed toward denial, the development team produced a last-minute offer to increase the number of deed-restricted units in the project.
The commissioners indicated that was an offer they would like to consider in detail, so they tabled the file.
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As they considered the developers’ latest offer, all three commissioners came to the conclusion that the changes tipped their decision to approve.
“I do think the project got better over time,” Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney said. When the initial application came before the county, the project did not feel like a community. Now, she said, it does.
“I do think that the plan has changed considerably. I believe that people giving comment have shaped this into a community,” McQueeney said.
Commissioner Matt Scherr noted that in any large project deliberation, there are aspects of the plan that are easy to support and others that are difficult to approve. In the case of Edwards RiverPark, he believes the evolution — which resulted in the building height reductions and the additional workforce housing provisions — stacked in the project’s favor.
Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said review of the Edwards RiverPark plan has been a difficult process.
“This is a neighborhood that cares so deeply about their community,” she said. “Change is hard and it’s hard to imagine new friends and neighbors on a piece of land that is essentially empty now.”
But the additional workforce housing provisions are vital, Chandler-Henry said. “We can’t say that workforce housing is our priority … and then not approve a workforce housing project that is in the center of our valley.”
Like her fellow commissioners, Chandler-Henry also commented on the plan changes. Initially, Edwards RiverPark was presented as a luxury development, she noted. Now, she said, it is more family-oriented and reflects the small town values that the Edwards Area Community Plan touts and local residents’ support.
“Small-town values are strong enough to weather change,” Chandler-Henry said. “I think you can keep those values when you have growth and you make room for new neighbors.”
Process shaped project
As community members objected to the latest round of changes to the plan, calling it a “lets make a deal” strategy from the developer, Edwards RiverPark planner Dominic Mauriello said that was not the intent.
“We get very little response from the commissioners until we are before you,” he said. “This process is what shaped a project. This is our only opportunity to react.”
The most recent housing proposal from the Edwards RiverPark developers includes the following breakdown of the 270 workforce units:
- 90 deed-restricted rental units — nine price-capped rental units at 80% average median income, 72 price-capped rental units at 100% AMI and nine resident-occupied, deed-restricted units for sale with no transfer fee exemption.
- 98 resident occupied deed restriction for sale units
- 82 resident occupied for sale or rental units
Noting that 61% of the units now proposed at the development would be included in the housing proposal, Mauriello characterized the revision as a meaningful change.
“I think it really is going over and beyond,” he said. “The majority of these units will now be resident-only deed rested units.”
But for several members of the public, who offered their final testimonies regarding the plan, the changes weren’t enough.
“Don’t make a forever mistake,” offered Edwards resident Don Welch. “I know that in your hearts and minds you know the project doesn’t fit Edwards.”
“The vast majority of Edwards residents oppose this development, and you all know it,” Dwight Merriman said.
“The resident-only units don’t change the tangible impacts of this project,” Mark Hamilton said.
The final hearing also produced comment in favor of the plan.
“I believe this project is perfect for the area where it is proposed,” Todd Williams said. “I think we can no longer push the housing problem downvalley and say we are sustainable in Eagle County.”
“Our housing crisis is a valleywide problem that we need to embrace and resolve,” Gary Woodworth said.
The discussion also touched on several areas that have long been issues for the Edwards RiverPark plan. Residents cited increased traffic, arguing that the roundabout that the developer has proposed at the development entrance won’t resolve problems in other areas of the Edwards U.S. Highway 6 corridor. They also maintained the prices of the units will be too high for average residents to afford and cited concerns about the water use impact of the project.
After talking about them at length during their previous deliberations, the commissioners briefly addressed those issues during their comments Tuesday. Chandler-Henry said that a letter from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District noted that there is sufficient reserves to serve Edwards RiverPark and added that she believes the proposed development would be a valid use of the valley’s limited water resources.
Chandler-Henry said she came back to a question that she was asked during the Edwards RiverPark public hearings. Someone asked the commissioners if they would want to live in the development.
“Would you want to live there? Maybe we should add that to our standards for approval,” she said. With the evolution of the Edwards RiverPark plan, Chandler-Henry said she can now say she would.
“I think the commissioners very thoughtfully said it best tonight — Edwards RiverPark truly is a better neighborhood-to-be because of nearly two years of public input; staff, appointed and elected official hard work and deliberations; and third-party agency expertise,” said Kristin Kenney Williams, spokesperson for the project. “Our team cannot help but be thankful to our visionaries, Don MacKenzie, Keith Novick and Rocky Cortina, and hope that Don would be proud that we are able to move forward in reclaiming a gravel pit with a variety of much-needed housing types, wildlife enhancement projects and significant traffic improvements.”
The final Edwards RiverPark hearing, including the commissioners’ deliberations, can be viewed at reflect-vod-eaglecounty.cablecast.tv.