Major vote is looming in preservation deal |

Major vote is looming in preservation deal

Tamara Miller

EAGLE COUNTY – The current fund-raising effort to purchase and preserve open space in Edwards will either get a significant boost or die all together next week.The Board of County Commissioners will decide Thursday evening if it will fulfill a $6 million request to help purchase about 75 acres of riverfront, wetland and meadow in Edward’s west side.The Vail Valley Foundation, a local nonprofit organization, is leading the effort to purchase the $12 million site – best known as part of Eaton Ranch – to prevent it from being developed. The county must meet the entire request to keep the effort going, said Ceil Folz, president of the foundation. The group has $2.1 million in formal pledges so far, and another $2 million in uncommitted pledges, said Harry Frampton, who serves on the foundation’s board of directors. But all are contingent on the county’s response – if the county does not meet the request for $6 million, the foundation’s fund-raising efforts would end. “The county is vital,” Folz said. Concerns all aroundThe request also is the largest ever to come before the county board. The amount is twice the annual collection from a voter-approved open space tax, which is about $3 million. That means the rest would have to come out of the county’s general budget.The request is also equal to an offer made by local developers Rick Hermes and George Sanders. The two men, who make up the local development firm Community Concepts, have a purchase contract on the remaining 105 acres of Eaton Ranch.The county’s Open Space Advisory Committee, which suggests how the open space tax should be spent, urged Eagle County to contribute the $6 million by a narrow 6-5 vote.County Commissioner Peter Runyon, who was elected in November, campaigned on a platform of stricter growth policies in the county and specifically on seeking ways to preserve the Eaton Ranch parcel. But during a special meeting Friday Runyon said he was concerned about draining the entire open space tax collections for 2005 for one project. If other preservation opportunities came up in the next year, the county would have no money left to support them, he said. County attorneys told the board that they could not commit future open space tax collections for the purchase.To justify the using up all of the open space money – and taking money out of the county’s general fun – Runyon suggested allowing a small portion of the parcel to be developed for “public use.”Foundation officials seemed reluctant, however. Frampton said the pledges he has received so far were to keep the entire 75-acre parcel as open space.Commissioner Arn Menconi took a different perspective, pointing out that preventing development on the site might lessen the chance of traffic congestion Edwards. Building roads to the site, which has steep embankments in some places, will be difficult, county engineers said. Commissioner Tom Stone was absent from the meeting.The right deal?”I don’t think anyone wants to damage the view corridor and the wetlands,” said Tom Harned, a local resident who spoke at Friday’s meeting. “I just think there are other options to look at.”Even if the foundation’s efforts were to fail and a developer purchased the land, the county commissioners still could prevent development along the Eagle River, he said. “I don’t think you need to invest taxpayer money into this,” Harned said. He supports preserving the land, but “I can’t endorse it as the best way to approach it,” he said. But there’s now a “window of opportunity” to preserve part of Eaton Ranch, Frampton said. “I just think we need more open space in the valley,” he said. And while the master plan for Edwards calls for commercial development in the eastern corner of that site, Frampton doesn’t think it’s necessary.”I just don’t think we need to put commercial property up everywhere,” he said. Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or tmiller@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado

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