Growth hot topic in first debate
Affordable housing in Eagle County: It’s a persistent challenge. But ask this year’s county commission candidates what the county should do about it and you’ll get different answers.Local radio station, 97.7 FM The Zephyr, will broadcast at 7 p.m. tonight an hour-long taped interview with county commission candidates A.J. Johnson, Arn Menconi and Buz Reynolds, Jr. The forum, hosted by local attorney Rohn Robbins, touches on everything from affordable housing to the Avon flagpole. The three candidates are vying for the seat Menconi currently holds, which represents parts of Avon, Edwards and Eagle. All three are experienced elected officials, but as the election draws closer, their differing views on county government – and how it should operate – are beginning to seep out.While Miller Ranch in Edwards has been hailed by many as an affordable housing success, Johnson, the former sheriff, and Reynolds, Avon’s mayor, criticized for the county. Johnson, the Republican candidate, praised programs that help residents purchase homes, such as the county’s down-payment assistance for lower-income residents, but questioned how prudent it is for the county to get into the business of building homes. “I’m not sure the county needs to be a developer, necessarily” he said. He said he supports the county work with private business to tackle the affordable housing problem, such as Edwards’ Miller Ranch, but said there was room for improvement.Independent candidate Reynolds, who owns the Reynolds Corporation construction company, said there are enough affordable homes in the valley and better communication between towns might have prevented the surplus, he said. “I really feel communication between the different governmental agencies would have been a lot more advantageous than developing a Miller Ranch,” he said.Menconi, who has overseen Miller Ranch’s construction as a commissioner, said more affordable housing is needed, not less. He cited a recent county study as evidence.”By 2025 we will have 36,000 people commuting into this valley,” said Menconi, a Democrat. “It’s about economic sustainability. Do we want people to drive an hour away from Garfield County and Lake County in order to come in for jobs that are paying $12 an hour?”
The future of Edwards’ Eaton Ranch, where B&B Excavating currently sits, is quickly becoming an election issue. The consensus among the candidates? Build on some of it, but preserve part of the 92-acre parcel as open space.”I’d like to see the county move in with some general fund dollars and some of our open space dollars and try to land-bank a portion of it,” Menconi said. Entering into partnerships with community members or conservation agencies would be good, he added, but he isn’t against developing the parcel all together.”The future use for that, if we need it, is for housing locals,” he said.Reynolds applauded efforts to preserve Bair Ranch in Glenwood Springs with county open space funds. Several residents, including Commissioner Tom Stone, opposed using county funds to preserve the sheep farm because part of the property would not be open to the public. Reynolds said the Avon Town Council attempts to preserve some open space with any large development. A portion of the Village at Avon, where Wal-Mart and The Home Depot now stand, will be dedicated open space, he said, suggesting Eaton Ranch should be handled the same way. “In an ideal world it would go back to Mr. (Bruce) Eaton and it would be sheep running all over the place,” Reynolds said. “But in the real world, the property is too valuable.”
Development, and the sales and property tax it could generate, would ultimately benefit the county, Johnson said. While Eaton, the property owner, and developer Rick Hermes are negotiating a possible sale, Johnson was quick to point out that no concrete development plans have yet been proposed for Eaton Ranch. “I think the developers … are probably getting the message they need to go back and look at it,” he said, adding he would like to some of the property dedicated to open space or a park. “I could see a nice river park down there. It would be wonderful for the surrounding community and Edwards.”Early on in the forum, Robbins posed one of the most pressing questions facing this election. Would these candidates pose for a nude picture in the annual Vail Valley Charitable Fund calendar? Voters should just hear the answers themselves.Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 949-0555, ext. 607.