Grant bid exposes Eaton flaw |

Grant bid exposes Eaton flaw

Don Rogers

The application for state grant money for the Eaton Ranch purchase is telling.Great Outdoors Colorado is highly unlikely to award $500,000 for a gravel pit in downtown Edwards. The Vail Valley Foundation and Eagle County know this. So they’ve tailored their grant application to cover just 16 acres along the Eagle River of the total 72-acre parcel that the county commissioners have committed $6 million toward preserving.GOCO doesn’t do mining operations. And I doubt that they would see much merit in violating “smart growth” principles, either.This is why even the ardent open-space advocates are split on the wisdom of spending so much protecting the center of a community while risking the ring.The expense of Eaton is about as high as it gets up here. That $12 million could go a lot further on land outside the current development zones. The return is questionable, too, especially if the effect of the deal proves to spread future development over a greater area instead of containing it. This even has a name. It’s called sprawl.Where could the money be better spent? I understand a developer is sniffing around the horseshoe-shaped Edwards Overlook covering 600 or so acres above Singletree. Part of that infamous Adams Rib land up Brush Creek might be coming available soon. There’s Wolcott. Portions beside the Eagle River. Some of the land Merv Lapin wants to develop in the fields along the river east of Eagle. The 10,000-acre Castle Peak Ranch around the scenic peak, perhaps someday. Even those lovely wetlands and flood plain just west of the Eaton parcel. Where else? The list is longer than the available money, even if the voters someday grant the county the ability to bond for open space.The Board of Commissioners would have been wise to refrain from breaking the open space piggy bank as soon as the new majority took office solely in light of those precious 5,300 acres that Florida-based developer Bobby Ginn wants Minturn to annex right on up to Red Cliff. That horrible Vail Resorts had planned to sell the rights to development on this land, before losing a lawsuit to partners who promptly sold out to Ginn. Conservation easements might still have a place there. Too bad the commissioners have nothing in the open-space till to back up their offers of “help” to Minturn. And I’m supposed to just shut up about what I think might be the dumbest decision the county has made in many years, maybe ever?Congratulations to Commissioners Arn Menconi and Peter Runyon, and the Vail Valley Foundation. You are on the cusp of winning the battle for a gravel pit where Main Street was supposed to go. And risk losing the greater war for open space throughout Eagle County. The owners of the option on that pretty land next to Eaton, Edwards-based builders Rick Hermes and George Sanders, are ready to develop what should be developed and protect what should be protected on both parcels together. I’m sure egos and ill will borne of missteps among the developers, foundation leaders, county officials and others will prevent that. But it shouldn’t. The master plan for Edwards calls for pretty much what the developers suggest. So just toss that document, forged in part with citizen input, into the trash along with the “smart growth” playbook? Too bad. The county has clout over how this land is developed without wasting so much money. That might be the most frustrating part of this. Yes, I know the pit will be reclaimed, with a skin of grass atop. But it still doesn’t stand up to land up nearby Lake Creek, on ridgelines and outside the current belt of development that are much more significant for open space. And sorry, Edwards ain’t Manhattan. The Central Park theory can’t really hang when the wilds are no more than three minutes away from even the Riverwalk shopping center.Why do I keep harping when the commissioners have made their decision to empty the open space purse and dip into the general fund, too? Well, philosophically because they are wrong. And practically because their commitment does not mean the purchase will go through. The foundation still must raise that other $6 million to buy the land by September.In other words, this isn’t a done deal quite yet. Maybe private philanthropists will have more sense where one-vote majorities on a county commission of three and an open space advisory panel of 11 have narrowly made the wrong decision.And for every entreaty to just … shut … up … already, another person gives me the thumbs-up and says don’t give up. I’m talking mainly about people who care deeply about open space. Among even the advocates, Eaton inspires no consensus. Oh sure, I hear plenty too from residents who wonder why a county that’s over 80 percent open space needs even more protected. These folks were hardly allies while the Daily pushed for the hotly contested Bair Ranch open-space agreement protecting 5,000 acres at Glenwood Canyon. The county’s portion was just over $2 million, all from the open space fund, with nearly a million left over for the future. I’ll tell you, it’s pretty interesting being painted now with a coarse brush as an anti-open space cretin. Hardly. I want to protect more, not less.So now the grant application to GOCO was massaged to tacitly recognize the riverside land that truly matters as open space, which the county can protect without squandering $12 million of public and private money.I’m curious to see if the people who consider open space grants across the state are really going to buy that one.I know I don’t. Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado

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