Homestead hosts first candidate forum
EDWARDS – It seems Eagle County’s growth will never end, nor will the topic ever cease to be the focus of a county commissioner campaign. This year is no different, as the five county commissioner candidates Tuesday night were asked their thoughts on the area’s projected population boom at the first forum of the election season. The Homestead Homeowners Association hosted the forum, which focused on the questions and concerns submitted by residents. New neighborhoodsCandidates were asked to share their opinions on the recent approval of 24 single-family homes at the end of Allen Circle, a neighborhood known as Heritage Park. Several Homestead residents opposed the project, arguing that the new homes would increase traffic and did not fit in with the surrounding neighborhood. The County Commissioners approved the project by a 2-1 vote, despite an advisory board’s recommendation of denial. “It’s unfortunate that the board went against the planning commission’s recommendation,” said Peter Runyon, the Democratic candidate for the upvalley seat being vacated by Commissioner Mike Gallagher. Runyon had opposed the project. He also said that county development guidelines need more “teeth,” suggesting ridge line developments such as Heritage Park should be outlawed.Runyon pointed out that incumbent Commissioner Arn Menconi, a Democrat who is hoping to retain his seat as the midvalley representative, voted against the project.A.J. Johnson, the Republican candidate for Menconi’s midvalley seat, said the project was an example of how the county’s system of development approval is not functioning as it should. Development projects should be considered on a consistent and fair basis, Johnson said. And advisory boards, such as the planning commission, should use guidelines, not politics, to make their decisions. But he stopped short of disagreeing or agreeing with the county board’s decision. “I’m ill-equipped to second guess the decision,” he said. Buz Reynolds, who is running against Johnson and Menconi as the independent candidate, said Heritage Park should not have been approved. However, his biggest complaint is that the project’s developer did not come with water rights for the homes, but rather purchased them. “The entire Cordillera project was done the same way,” he said.Water is too valuable in this part of the country to be purchased – future developers need to already prove they can provide adequate water for development, he said. Valley childcareMenconi vowed to make childcare a priority if re-elected.”If there is one aspect I have failed as a county commissioner, it was not convincing another county commissioner of the importance of affordable childcare,” Menconi said. Menconi referred to a county study that shows 1,500 families are on waiting lists for child care in the county. His work with children through the nonprofit Snowboard Outreach Society has taught him that investing in the welfare of children under the age of 3 can prevent problems later in life, he said. Richard De Clark, the Republican candidate challenging Runyon for the upvalley seat, lauded the county’s decision to build a childcare facility in Miller Ranch. A private entity, not a public entity, should run it, he said. He suggested the county could provide discounted rent to childcare providers operating in public buildings. Spending money on childcare and early childhood education will pay off later, he said. “For every $1 (invested), it saves another $7 in the cost of education,” he said. Reynolds said county officials could subsidize the cost of childcare. But, he added, there should be better planning of the location of such centers, noting that some residential childcare operations are located in inconvenient places. Open communicationA common complaint town officials have of the county – and one of the reasons why some argue Edwards should be incorporated – is because much of the county’s money is spent in the unincorporated community.Reynolds, the outgoing mayor of Avon, said the town pays for more than what it gets back. One way to make the distribution of county money equitable would be make each community’s contribution to the county equal the price of the county’s services they receive, he said. “I don’t see anything unfair about that,” Reynolds said. Perhaps the county could be responsible for all road maintenance, Runyon said. On the topic of communication between town and county officials, Runyon pointed out nearly every governmental entity has meetings on Tuesdays. The county should hire someone to serve solely as the liaison between the county, towns and other boards, he said. Johnson agreed better communication between the county and towns could help end the real or perceived spending inequalities. He said the county needs to identify its mission and establish specific goals. County officials also can serve as a leader in bringing towns and other district boards together, Johnson said. Mostly, government needs to do a better job of meeting the needs of the public, he said.”We need to make government do what the people want,” Johnson said. One way to solve the communication problems between the county and towns would be for the financial directors of various government entities to meet and compare budgets, Menconi said. That way the county knows how and where they could help towns and vice-versa.Menconi agreed county officials need to do a better job of listening to residents. Too often, intelligent people who want to contribute have been “invalidated” under the current administration, he said. “I hope you see me as a listener,” he said. De Clark said the county needs to prioritize its spending to benefit the entire county, not just a specific community. Transportation is one example, he said. De Clark added he would like to see the county take the lead in bringing an assisted-care facility to the area. Right now, aging residents frequently have to leave the valley, their friends and their families to get the help they need, he said. “We focus so much on land use and not on the people,” he said. Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or firstname.lastname@example.org.