Feds, county may trade land | VailDaily.com

Feds, county may trade land

Kathy Heicher
Eagle correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado

EAGLE, Colorado ” Eagle County and the U.S. Forest Service are edging toward a partnership that could jump-start significant redevelopment in west Eagle.

It’s a complex process involving the sale of existing land-locked USFS properties in town to the county; and redevelopment of the old county road and bridge properties. The land deal would open up opportunities for relocation of the forest service administrative facilities, possibly to a site at the Eagle County Fairgrounds.

County officials are eyeing the Forest Service lots and the adjoining road and bridge parcels in west Eagle for a workforce housing development. The Forest Service wants some of that future housing for their employees.

There’s also a possibility, if private land owners in west Eagle are interested, of initiating a comprehensive plan that could launch re-development of Eagle’s Highway 6 corridor.

However, county and forest service officials stress that nothing is final yet. The sale of federal properties mandates a regimented process requiring appraisals, and “due diligence” studies dealing with such issues as hazardous materials and evaluation of the historic significance of the properties.

“It looks promising at this point,” says Randy Parker, conveyance program manager for the White River National Forest. Parker and County Housing Director Alex Potente confirmed they have been discussing the possible deal for almost a year. Both entities anticipate the land deal could be completed by the end of this year.

Long process

The Forest Service has been discussing the possibility of selling its in-town properties for several years. Getting the ball rolling on the land deal actually required a new federal law. After several failed attempts over the years by Colorado congressmen to create such legislation, a new law was approved in 2005. The law, in effect, allows the Forest Service to evaluate its existing administrative properties in view of long term needs. If necessary, the properties can be sold at appraised value; and the money can be used to develop new facilities locally.

The Forest Service properties in Eagle include the administration office and a house on Fifth Street, a private residence on Sixth and Washington, a 5-acre horse pasture and the adjacent 3-acre “bug camp” storage space. The office and ranger’s house on Fifth Street were built decades ago. The office/work center has been remodeled and added onto numerous times. The buildings are crowded and outdated.

Parker said the Forest Service wants to build a new office and work center west of Wolcott; and preferably in the town of Eagle. Several years ago, the Forest Service combined the administrative functions of the Holy Cross District, based out of Minturn, and the Eagle District. However, neither entity had a large enough building to accommodate the staff.

Eagle County officials, while negotiating the land deal, floated the proposal to relocate the Forest Service headquarters to another property ” possibly the fairgrounds.

“The county commissioners are sensitive to the public benefit of the Forest Service (office),” said Potente, “We’d prefer to keep it in the county seat.”

Meanwhile, Parker says, the Forest Service, like most businesses in the valley, has found that a lack of affordable housing was a key issue in retaining employees. That’s what prompted discussions with the county regarding a deal that would include some employee housing.

“What good is a new office if there is nobody there to occupy it?” asks Parker.

“The county wants to do anything in its power to house critical public employees,” says Potente.

Parker said the Forest Service also is looking for employee housing opportunities in other counties. Eagle County is further along with its workforce housing plan than other counties the agency is dealing with, he notes.

“Access to the burgeoning Eagle County Housing Authority and having units available at price points that would match our work force is important to us,” he says.

Community input

If the land acquisition deal goes through, Potente says the Forest Service office and house property north of Eagle Town Park offer an opportunity for expansion of the county’s nearby administrative facilities. The county has also acquired the property on the northwest corner of Fifth and Broadway.

Placing the Forest Service and county road and bridge parcels in west Eagle under unified ownership opens up development possibilities, including completion of the long-promised Bull Pasture By-Pass road connecting Highway 6 and Brush Creek Road. Potente said the county has been talking individually with Eagle officials and with private property owners in the west end about potential redevelopment that could include some Highway 6 properties.

“We don’t have a pre-conception. We need to get input as to what the community will accept. We would like as many property owners to participate as are interested,” says Potente. He stresses that there will be no land condemnations.

“We’re not forcing anybody to participate,” he says.

Potente and Eagle County Commissioner Sara Fisher stressed that any redevelopment plans by the county would be shaped by public input.

“Our goal is to look at the best possible opportunities for infill while being very conscientious of the communities already in place,” says Fisher, “This should end up being a win-win for everybody.”

Meanwhile, the county and the Forest Service continue to work on the details.

“It is in both our interests to make this happen. We’re struggling with the process,” says Parker.

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