How much is one view worth?
This is blasphemy, I know, but I’m not convinced that Eagle County should empty two years’ worth of open space funds into buying 72 acres of the Eaton Ranch in Edwards. Yes, a green belt there would be great, as it would be on the neighboring 105 acres of nearly all flood plain and wetlands that Edwards developers Rick Hermes and George Sanders have under contract. Bruce Eaton will sell the 72 acres for $12 million, and the Vail Valley Found-ation has stepped up to hold the land for a year while trying to raise that amount from a variety of private and public contributors, including Eagle County. That was a breathtaking and awesome move.This month, though, there’s a fork in the road – the foundation has a $500,000 payment to make to Eaton to continue to hold its year-long option on the land. The county commissioners will meet Thursday to decide how much they will commit to the purchase.Here’s the difficult part. The county collects about $3 million a year through its open space tax. The foundation seeks a payment of twice that – this year – as the county’s contribution to the 72 acres in Edwards, where the bulk of the current gravel quarry now sits. How much is that view worth? By comparison, the county allotted $2 million to help preserve 4,600 acres of the Bair Ranch near the mouth of Glenwood Canyon.I love the idea that Eagle County has a fund dedicated to open space, and one that is as generous as ours. I don’t mind if the county uses all of the money it has in the fund now, which I think approaches $4 million. That should be it, though. I don’t like the idea of tapping the county’s general fund for an open space purchase. Here’s some blasphemy: There are lots of other ways for the county to invest in making this a better community that don’t have accounts growing by $3 million a year. The county needs to live within what’s been dedicated to open space.Sure, that’s a hard line. I can understand the argument that the Eaton land is available now and probably would not be available when the county has $6 million or more in open space funds to make this deal work. It is a tough call for our elected county commissioners, and the open space advocates have to be glad I’m not on the board.How much is that view worth? Worth giving up a chance to keep, say, Wolcott, out of a developer’s hands if one bought that pastureland in the next couple of years? Worth giving Merv Lapin a chance to be a good local willing to put a conservation easement on at least some of those fields just west of Eagle where he’s pushing to build big boxes and such while expressing his deep, deep concern about how Vail is developed? There are other places besides Edwards for wise investments in open space. More blasphemy: I think part of Eaton’s land could be developed while leaving a swath of greenbelt near the Eagle River that widens into the flood plain and wetlands on the 105 acres to the west, and the mostly open land to the west of that.Logically, I believe, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense for the county to commit $6 million to the Eaton parcel. Yet more blasphemy: The offer from Hermes and Saunders to build on the gravel pit while contributing $6 million to preserving the rest of the two properties might be better for the county’s open space effort in the long run. Their contribution should be closer to $9 million, since I’m spending someone else’s money here, and the development should be smaller, which might enhance its value anyway.I think the foundation has made a terrific gesture and opened a great door. It would be fantastic if they raised the $12 million to buy this land. But if it can’t be accomplished on a sensible county share of what’s in the open space account this year, I’m not sure this parcel is worth the price in the long run. I’ll even bet the view wouldn’t be ruined with the county saving this precious money for other open space efforts. How’s that for blasphemy? Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or email@example.comVail, Colorado