Expensive wish list for Gypsum roads
GYPSUM – There’s no doubt Gypsum’s roadways are getting crowded. The question is, who will pick up the tab to address the town’s long-term traffic concerns? Discussion has begun on the financing of large-scale road projects identified in the Gypsum traffic study, which says the town needs to complete $1.95 million in road projects in the next five years. An additional $19.95 million is needed to address the 10-year projects. “I come into work early because of the traffic,” says Janet Hester, Gypsum resident who works at the Eagle County Schools administration office in Eagle. She said the main traffic problems materialized at Valley Road and U.S. Highway 6. “Sometimes the traffic is backed up clear from the high school light all the way to the Valley Road light.”One financing option the town is studying is impact fees – charges assessed on new residential and commercial construction. While Gypsum hasn’t charged specific impact fees in the past, both the town of Eagle and Eagle County impose them. But putting impact fees into action can be a dicey proposition. “All the towns in the county have the same problem. There’s the need for better streets and roads, but how do we pay for it?” says Dick Mayne, Gypsum Town Council member. “We don’t want to be a community that runs business away.”
Not everything Gypsum wants to do can be paid for with impact fees, including paving and building bike lanes. The fees can be used to expand roads, and the town’s traffic study identifies $13 million worth of work that would qualify for impact-fee funding. Under this scenario, single family homes would play a $3,571 fee while commercial properties would be assessed on a per-square-foot basis. For instance, the fee for the developer of a 4,999-square-foot business would be $795,000. Gypsum’s leaders are wrestling with the question of whether impact fees could chase commercial projects away from town.”If we want to slow commercial development in the town of Gypsum, this will totally do it,” says Town Council member Tom Edwards. “I think Gypsum is becoming more of a community. I don’t want to discourage commercial stores and businesses from coming here.”Gypsum has gone to developers for improvements as part of annexation agreements. In the past, fees have paid for the new recreation center, town parks and several traffic projects. Brightwater development, for instance, is repaving and widening Valley Road from Chatfield Corners through its development.”Most business would balk at paying this high of a fee … but if you don’t charge the impact fee, the money still has to come from someplace,” said Gypsum traffic consultant Charles Buck. Eagle charges a $1,160 fee for single-family homes and a $646 per dwelling unit fee for multi-family housing. The town also charges commercial street impact fees with higher amounts assessed to businesses that generate more traffic. For instance, sit-down restaurants pay a smaller fee than fast-food restaurants.
Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll says the town can offset high impact fees by issuing revenue bonds to finance road projects. The downside of that plan is Gypsum will have to complete work in phases. Also, financing may be a bit difficult because a hefty portion of Gypsum’s sales tax revenues are already dedicated to projects, such as the recreation center.But in the long run, Shroll says lower impact fees are a better strategy because Gypsum needs to attract more commercial, sales-tax generating projects to town. Shroll stresses that sales tax revenues will ultimately provide funding for Gypsum’s long-term infrastructure improvements, but only if the community provides a business-friendly environment. He notes that under the proposed scenario, Costco would have paid a $1.2 million traffic impact fee.”Obviously that would have chased them away,” says Shroll.Still, some Town Hall leaders say there is a need to find a scenario where growth does pay some of its own way. “Unfortunately, growth is causing this need and they are going to have to step up and pay for it,” says Council member Gary Lebo. “If it chases business away, maybe that’s where our growth stops.”