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Growing guidelines

Kathy Heicher
Special to the DailyEagle County is currently revising its guidelines for growth over the next 20 years, a period during which the population is expected to nearly double, from about 44,000 to 80,000.
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EAGLE COUNTY – If you think Eagle County is getting kind of crowded these days, just wait another 20 years. According to the Colorado state demographer’s projections, the county’s population will grow from 44,990 in the year 2000 to nearly 80,000 people by 2025. That would be a 9 percent growth rate, falling just short of doubling the population over a 25-year period.That’s the reason why John King of Gypsum – a construction project manager, avid outdoorsman, and current chairman of the Eagle County Planning Commission- thinks citizens should take an interest in the so-called and newly revised Eagle County Comprehensive Plan. That document, formerly called the “master plan,” establishes guidelines for growth in Eagle County over the next 20 years.For nearly two years, the planning commission – typically an advisory board to the county commissioners – and Eagle County planners have been revising the plan, which was last updated in 1996. A preliminary version is complete and available for review.”This is not a planning commission job, or a county commissioner job. It is a community job. Everyone should provide their input,” says King, adding residents tends to be reactionary, rather than proactive, to land use issues.”One of our greatest frustrations on the planning commission is not getting enough public input,” King says. “We get frustrated with people saying after the fact, ‘If only I had known.'”

A lifelong resident of Colorado, King describes himself as “one of those guys who loves living in the mountains.” His job in the construction industry has given him an understanding of the economic value of growth, and he is concerned about the impacts on wildlife, scenery, and lifestyle, he says. There is a way to allow growth and hold onto those quality-of life factors, he says. “That’s exactly what the comprehensive plan does: It tells us how do we grow in a way that protects our environment and the things we care about,” said King.Water watchRebecca Leonard, senior planner for Eagle County, has been shepherding the comprehensive plan through the revision process. Two rounds of public input hearings were held in the fall and spring of 2003. Each time, the county staged five separate meetings – in different areas of the county – seeking to maximize citizen input. Town councils and special district boards were also consulted.Attendance at the meetings ranged from just a couple of citizens, to as many as 25 at a single session. In total, about 60 people participated in the first round and 150 joined in the comments by the second round. Additionally, the county developed an e-mail list of 370 people who wanted to keep abreast of the revision process.That input suggested that citizens still had many of the same values that drove the 1996 master plan.

“We really did try to bring forward the general direction and vision of the 1996 plan. That plan has a lot of support,” Leonard says. Those elements include housing, infrastructure and services, environmental quality, sensitive lands, wildlife, and general development.There are some new, separate elements in the revised comprehensive plan: general governance, economy, and water. The “general governance” chapter spells out policies intended to keep the public informed about how the land use process affects them. Those policies call for a transcending of traditional political boundaries to work on cooperative solutions with other local government entities.The economic section policies include formation of a countywide economic development organization and promotion of a healthy business environment. The planning commission has long urged county decision makers to pay greater attention to water issues. This section includes policies intended to encourage protection of water quality and quantity.Getting specificOne key difference between the old and new plan is the elimination of political boundaries. Whereas the old plan was limited specifically to lands that were under the control of the county, the vision of the new plan was drawn without regard to political boundaries and therefore includes the valley’s incorporated towns.

Essentially, the analysis includes all of the lands in the counties, but the policies are applicable only to county land. The land use maps include territory within town boundaries. The hope is that the towns will explore and adopt the same or similar policies.”The idea is to paint the vision, put the necessary steps down on paper, then figure out how and who to engage in the process of implementing them,” Leonard says. The new plan is printed on 11-inch by 17-inch pages; and the number of pages has increased from 120 in 1996 to 184 now. The larger format allows for an easier-to-read document and maps.In the 1996 plan, policies tended to be very general. In the revised plan, policies include more detail. A related “toolbox” spells out steps that can be taken to make those policies happen. “The old master plan was pretty nebulous,” says Brush Creek resident Rosie Shearwood, who has been keeping an eye on local land use decisions for the past several decades. She’s looking forward to a better-defined master plan.”So often, with the old plan, the decision makers were not interpreting it the same way I might,” Shearwood says. “I’m hoping that with the new plan they actually identify what locations would see future development and at what densities.”She advises fellow residents of the county to review the plan and offer input.”People are becoming aware that growth is an important issue. I think the public philosophy is turning now toward controlled growth,” she says.

Linking and zoomingNew technology since 1996 has created a plan that Leonard says is much more user-friendly for developers, citizens, and decision-makers who rely on master plans.”Users should be able to just cruise through, and tick off whether their project meets the policy,” says Leonard.The various sub-area plans for specific communities of the county – such as Wolcott, Edwards and Dotsero – are incorporated into the plan as chapters. Previously, those plans were separate documents that did not easily tie into the overall master plan. One significant technological change is that the document is available on-line and laced with hyper-links. A couple of clicks of the mouse on key words allows users a quick-look at cross-reference maps or background materials. Some of the links hook up to materials outside of the actual document, or lead to helpful Web sites. Computer technology also allows users to “zoom in” on map details and download specific sections of the map.”It is much easier to use on line,” Leonard says. “The paper version actually loses a lot of the functionality.”Vail, Colorado


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