Eaton deal doesn’t make sense |

Eaton deal doesn’t make sense

Steve Pope

It is not often that Don Rogers and I will have editorials on the same issue in the Vail Daily on the same day. Generally this will only happen if we strongly disagree with each other and want to present both sides of an issue. Today is an exception. We both agree that the use of Eagle County general fund resources to purchase the Eaton parcel is unwise. But since this is an important issue for our newly seated Eagle County Board of Commissioners and for the county in general, we chose to present the different ways we each came to the same conclusion. Here is my take: Using the general fund to turn the Eaton parcel into protected open space is inconsistent with the county Land Use Plan that has been in place for some time. This plan was developed with substantial public input and should not be cast aside capriciously. The county often uses the plan in support of decisions impressed upon developers. Frankly, the sword cuts both ways.It may well be wiser for the county to consider spending funds on land that is designated as open space in the current plan than risking unintended effects of buying land designated for development. If the Eaton parcel is fully protected, development pressure will move growth to another area in Eagle County. Wouldn’t it be a shame if that move was to Wolcott? The county would be far wiser developing Edwards according to the Land Use Plan and using any available funds to protect land that is not already designated for relatively intense development.A vote by our commissioners to use the general fund to finance the Eaton purchase is also inconsistent with the intent voters showed when they approved the open space fund tax issue. Approval of this measure just over two years ago was clearly a direction that county open land protection activities should be funded through the added tax rather than through the general fund.This proposed purchase is not very efficient. A considerable amount of the parcel and adjoining parcels are already protected by wetland regulations. Let’s be wise and take advantage of the protections without throwing money into a sketchy purchase. We should use precious protection resources for other land that does not enjoy the same measure of federal protection. A significant side effect of using general fund resources on the Eaton parcel is the impact it will have on the county’s ability to fund other critical needs; $3 million or so is a sizable amount in our county’s budget. How will this expenditure impact other projects such as Cooley Mesa Road, child-care needs or the West Vail fire station? There is only so much money to go around. The commissioners should not be spending resources on a marginal project when there are so many other high value needs that are going unmet.So what should the commissioners do? First, they should not approve the use of general fund resources to fund the Eaton purchase. This part seems pretty clear.They should consider following their own master plan, using already established zoning and permit approval power to ensure that development on the parcel meets high standards. They should also use this power to ensure that land already protected along the river is tied in well with the Berry Creek 5th land on the other side of the Spur Road. This will ensure we all get a beautiful green belt along a full stretch of the river without having to spend a ton of money as part of the deal. They might even use some money down the road to put in a bike path or two.If the commissioners just can’t get over the idea of purchasing the Eaton parcel, they should consider buying an option from Bruce Eaton to give them time to come back to us, the voters. It is only right that all of us have a say when decisions we have hammered out over years or have voted on explicitly are considered for change. We have the right for input, and the commissioners have the fiduciary responsibility to give us a chance for adequate input.I don’t see this as a close decision. I love open space, but this is not the right way to go about it. It’s a slam dunk no. Let’s not spend the money.Steve Pope is the publisher of the Vail Daily.Vail, Colorado

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