Edwards RiverPark project opponents, supporters have their say

Eagle County commissioners continue public hearings on ’large and complex file’

A group of Eagle County staffers tour the Edwards RiverPark site in late 2020.
Daily file photo

Professional planners, architects, engineers and government staffers analyze development proposals but it is ordinary people who endure the impacts and enjoy the benefits when a new neighborhood comes to town.

It was those ordinary voices that took over the Edwards RiverPark public hearing process this week as the Eagle County Board of Commissioners scheduled public comment for the entire two-hour session held Tuesday.

Because these are the days of COVID-19, the public came to a Zoom session instead of the commissioners’ meeting room to weigh in on the details for what Commissioner Matt Scherr called “a large and complex file.” While 46 people reserved time to speak about the Edwards RiverPark, only 25 actually did so. Some of the would-be speakers ceded their allocated three minutes to friends or neighbors who had more expansive presentations.

This rendering shows the location and scope of the proposed Edwards RiverPark project.
Special to the Daily

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.

In October, the Eagle County Planning Commission recommended approval of the application with 39 conditions of approval. The county planning staff also recommended approval with the addition of three more conditions. As of this week, staff has stated that 21 of the recommended conditions have been satisfied, but recommended that 22 of the conditions remain if the commissioners vote to approve the proposed development.

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Opinion was basically evenly divided between people in favor of the proposal and those opposed to it for Tuesday’s public hearing. The public tackled some of biggest issues regarding Edwards RiverPark — size and scope, workforce housing and wildlife impacts.

Neighborhood concerns

Several Edwards RiverPark neighbors objected to the plan, arguing it does not fit the small, mountain town character envisioned in the Edwards Area Community Plan.

“The opposition is not to the development of the parcel. The objection is to the irresponsible development of the parcel,” Kerry Wallace said.

Wallace said the 540 units and 75-foot tall buildings are “clearly incompatible with surrounding uses.” A resort-type development in the area will leave Edwards residents feeling like they are living next to Disneyland, said Wallace, with noise and light pollution and massive traffic impacts.

The developer has agreed to fund construction of an estimated $5 million roundabout proposed at U.S. Highway 6 and Lake Creek Road, but residents who live south of Highway 6 argued that improvement will likely make left-hand turns impossible.

David Schlendorf noted the proposed development is located right next to the Eagle River Preserve, a county-preserved open space parcel that is beloved by the community. He questioned the logic of having open space trails funneling into a dense resort project that features a hotel and tall buildings.

“Some things simply aren’t right. Letting this proposed development go forward is one of them,” he said.

“The scale and scope are completed out of scope with Edwards,” Spencer Denison said. “It’s going to be a very unfriendly environment.”

“The developer needs to show respect for our community and its needs,” Anni Davis said. “This is our home. We need to plan wisely for our future.”

But Edwards RiverPark proponents argued the location was a logical place for development.

“It’s an abandoned gravel mine and it’s a blight and it’s wonderful that someone is going to do something with it that will make it attractive,” Jay Norbrega said.

“As some point this parcel needs to be developed,” Scott Divonas said. “Getting rid of the gravel pit and putting in something else is a benefit to our community.”

Matt Fitzgerald voiced his support for both Edwards RiverPark developer Rocky Cortina and his plan. “I think the economic benefits are pretty substantial,” Fitzgerald said.

Malia Norbrega said Edwards RiverPark will address a dangerous intersection with construction of the Lake Creek Road roundabout and noted the parcel itself is zoned for higher density development.

“I am also incredibly excited about the amenities that this project will bring to Edwards,” she said.

Workforce housing

The workforce housing proposal for Edwards RiverPark has generated a good deal of interest, in part because of its novel approach to the county’s requirements.

The 540 total dwelling units at Edwards RiverPark would include 10 for-sale deed restricted units and 90 deed-restricted rental units. Additionally, the project has proposed a 1% real estate transfer tax on free market transactions with proceeds earmarked for the county’s housing program. The development team has stated the transfer tax could generate $7.5 million in the first eight years and $450,000 annually at build-out for the county’s affordable housing program.

Project proponents touted the workforce housing provisions of the Edwards RiverPark plan.

“The Edwards RiverPark developer has exceeded the county’s housing guidelines by 30%,” Bobby Lipnick said. Lipnick argued that this private participation in the county program would help address a critical valley shortfall.

“I think they are generating a considerable amount of money for affordable housing,” offered Matthew Blake.

But opponents of the plan argued the affordable housing at Edwards RiverPark isn’t sufficient to meet the needs of the development’s projected employees, let alone the larger county need.

“The developer has cleverly disguised the workforce housing issue,” Lydia Woodard said. “This plan is actually a net loss, not a gain in addressing workforce housing. There are way more employees needed for the hotel than the workforce housing being provided.”

“This (the workforce housing part of the plan) is the reason why many people in this valley want this passed,” Rachel Lach said. But she argued that without price caps for the proposed units, there is no guarantee that the new housing will remain affordable in the future.

Wildlife impacts

Today, deer and elk can be spotted at the Edwards RiverPark land. That won’t be true in the future if the development happens, argue project opponents.

“It will have a devastating impact to the valley wildlife by developing one of the few remaining wildlife corridors,” Matt Szmyd said. He said that the developers’ wildlife mitigation plan, which relies on a volunteer homeowners association group to enforce wildlife closures and other regulations, wouldn’t be practical.

“We are losing open space at an exasperating rate,” Evan DeMuth said.

Terri Lester proposed reaching out to the newly-formed Eagle County Wildlife Roundtable to learn the group’s input regarding the Edwards RiverPark Plan.

In response, project opponents argued the current developer is committed to working with the local community on the various issues such as wildlife and wetlands mitigation. Spencer Blair noted that the development team is local and its members are invested not only in the success of the project, but also in the valley’s future.

“This is an old gravel pit and it’s in the right location,” he said.

The Eagle County Board of Commissioners will continue the Edwards River Park public hearing on Tuesday, March 2. The meeting agenda includes a presentation from the applicant “about changes proposed to the project in response to feedback received during the public hearing process.” Additional time for public comment will be provided and speakers can sign up at The complete Edwards River Park applications can be views at the the Eagle County planning webpage.

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