Official bash: Pitkin, Eagle leaders trade jabs
EL JEBEL – Two Pitkin County commissioners scolded their counterparts in Eagle County Monday for granting the first round of approvals recently for a big development in El Jebel.
In a face-to-face meeting, Pitkin County Commissioners Michael Owsley and Jack Hatfield criticized Eagle County’s stance on developer Ace Lane’s proposal for 319 residences and 96,000 square feet of commercial space.
Hatfield told the Eagle County elected officials that “this part of Eagle County feels differently” than the Eagle Valley side on growth issues. The main part of Eagle County includes Vail, Avon, Edwards, Eagle and Gypsum, which are generally more flexible on growth than Roaring Fork Valley towns.
“We don’t want this side to become like Edwards – an unincorporated city,” Hatfield said. Like El Jebel, Edwards isn’t an official town. Approvals by Eagle County have made both El Jebel and Edwards among the densest parts of the county.
Owsley didn’t back down from comments he made last week in a Pitkin County commissioner work session that Eagle County had essentially dropped a “bag of excrement” on Pitkin County’s doorstep. He was referring to the Lane project.
Eagle County Commissioner Sara Fisher suggested Monday that Owsley’s comment was too personal and “mean.”
But Owsley said he wanted the comment to get noticed and bring attention to the issue. Numerous people called him after they read the comment in local newspapers and “thanked” him for speaking out against a development that they felt will be detrimental to the Roaring Fork Valley, he said.
“It’s going to amount to a city,” Owsley said. And the adverse effects, such as traffic, will extend beyond Eagle County.
Fisher and Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney voted for Lane’s project last month while board member Peter Runyon voted against it. Stavney justified his vote with a shot back at Pitkin County.
“I see Pitkin County shifting a lot of impacts down valley,” Stavney told the Pitkin County elected officials. Aspen and Pitkin County have been criticized at times for generating more jobs than affordable housing. Although the city and county affordable housing program is recognized as one of the most successful, Aspen’s success triggered growth in downvalley towns.
Fisher said she supported Lane’s project for the affordable housing. During her campaign for office in 2006, residents from the Eagle County portion of the Roaring Fork Valley told her they wanted more housing opportunities, she said.
Owsley retorted, “Don’t take that burden on. We’ll deal with it.”
He and Hatfield said approving growth to gain some affordable housing is a no-win situation. The cost to the area from the development will outweigh the gain in housing.
“The proof of controlled development lies in Pitkin County,” Owsley said in a last comment before he added, “enough lecturing.”
Pitkin County Commissioners Rachel Richards and George Newman were a bit more diplomatic about the rift over growth control. Richards said elected boards will always make decisions that other boards disagree with and don’t understand. The Pitkin County commissioners’ role isn’t to second guess the Eagle County officials, she said. However, she asked Stavney and Fisher to take another, more detailed look in future meetings to make sure projects provide enough affordable housing.
Newman urged Eagle County to require developers to provide affordable housing for 100 percent of employees generated by commercial projects and to make Lane’s project more affordable for workers.
Runyon – who voted against Lane’s project – seemed to enjoy the comments directed at his colleagues. “You all sound like me,” he told the Pitkin County commissioners.
Lane’s project is several months away from the second and decisive round of review.