Runyon made housing, roundabouts realities
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado In Democrat Peter Runyons last four years as Eagle County Commissioner, the Edwards resident said he has focused his energy on building trust and cooperation between the county and the towns while dealing with the consequences of rapid growth.Housing and costs were issues when I came here in 1970, Runyon said. Those were mostly ski employees, the young crowd. Now, our economy is much more sophisticated, and these people want a real life.
Runyon has often questioned the growth in a valley known for fast-paced, high-priced development. He has tried to set a balance between second-home owners and local residents, he said.While the number of second-homes versus locally-owned homes may be about equal, there are plenty of already approved second homes in the pipelines, Runyon said.In 2006, Runyon voted for a nine-month ban on approvals of new subdivisions while the county worked on smart growth policies that focused on affordable housing, environmental protection and balancing the local economy.That has led to much tougher housing requirements for developers of larger projects, one of the most recent being the West End, a mix of stores, offices and homes in downtown Edwards. The developer agreed to sell 72 of the 185 homes in the project as affordable, deed-restricted housing.Runyon was initially against the project because he worried that despite the housing concessions, the project still did not cover housing for all the new jobs it would create. However, in the final decision, he voted to approve the project.I wasnt sure about the balance of community benefit, he said of the West End. It was a gray decision, and part of politics is meeting in the middle.The boards environmental focus also created the ECOBuild program, which offers rebates for commercial and residential buildings that incorporate green building, such as installing solar panels or using sustainable building materials.Meanwhile, some county conservatives have criticized the tightened growth policies as choking exactly what makes the areas economy successful.And while approving projects like the West End, Runyon has also supported buying open space, such as the $12 million Eagle River Preserve in Edwards and the Gates Ranch conservation easement near Burns. Both were bought in partnership with the Eagle Valley Land Trust and community donors.Planners of the preserve say it will return to nature a piece of land in the bustling heart of Edwards.The Gates Ranch was a controversial purchase critics said the land was too remote and would never be seen or used by the public.I still dont like it, said Republican and midvalley county commissioner candidate Debbie Buckley of the deal. Id prefer things always in Eagle County, things people can see and use and enjoy.However, Runyon and the other commissioners said they felt it was smart to purchase the undeveloped land further away while it was more affordable and also to preserve the countys ranching heritage.Runyon said that while he does believe in protecting the land that is most at risk, he thought the Gates deal opened the door for preserving the Colorado River corridor.This has opened the door for dialogue, and hopefully other ranchers will take advantage of these easements, Runyon said.
Runyon said he also takes a pro-active approach to providing affordable workforce housing. Besides the workforce homes at the West End, commissioners also invested $4.5 million into Stratton Flats, an affordable neighborhood in Gypsum. The board is also working on land banking, or buying up available property such as a U.S. Forest Service parcel in Eagle and the B&B Excavating lot in Edwards, for future housing or other development.Runyon also helped create and approved revised county housing guidelines that require developers to build workforce housing along with their projects and compensate for jobs their projects create.A land-use specialist who recently visited the county said the guidelines were some of the most stringent he had ever seen, but that they might work for Eagle County.Some developers opposed the guidelines, saying they would stunt the building market, and that the county should look to businesses and the free market to provide housing.Im worried that projects wont be able to provide housing because it doesnt make economic sense, said Vail Resorts developer Keith Fernandez. This will deter development more than encourage affordable housing.But Runyon said his stance is that the county needs to step in.Previous boards have by and large felt that the free market was in sufficient control of managing growth, and while Im a free market believer, we have a market breakdown, Runyon said. Free market has not stepped up to the plate to provide workforce housing.
Runyon is also the vice chairman of the I-70 Coalition, a group of policy makers and officials from along Interstate 70 who are making recommendations for the corridors future.He has worked to lobby for the countys transportation needs at the state level, Runyon said.Most recently, the county got $11 million in funding from the Colorado Department of Transportation for new roundabouts at the Edwards interchange. The design for the project was funded by the county and some Edwards metro districts before CDOT took on the project.Getting money for such a large project from the cash-strapped state was largely due to Runyons efforts, said Republican Don Cohen, member of the Berry Creek Metro District and executive director of the countys Economic Business Council.If he hadnt been on the I-70 Coalition, and hadnt known the director of CDOT personally, that never would have happened, period, he said. Thats one of the best things you can ask from a county commissioner. He does a good job representing county interests.Runyon said he has also been working on getting CDOT funding for an airport interchange in Gypsum, a West Edwards exit and improvements to Eby Creek Road in Eagle.
Some of Runyons critics accuse him of not listening to voters and creating distrust of the commissioners in the county.Randy Milhoan, chair of the Eagle County Republicans said Democrat commissioner Arn Menconi has influenced Runyon in many of his decisions. Runyon and commissioners have spent too much money, raised property taxes, and kept the public out of the loop, some Republicans said.Former commissioner Tom Stone pointed to the countys early childhood development program, widely regarded as a project of Menconis. In 2006 a sales tax to fund the program was voted down, and commissioners went ahead with a much smaller version of the program funded by the county and community matches.The commissioners acted like they knew better and spent the money anyway, Stone said. Unfortunately, Peter has gone along with everything of consequence that Arn has wanted to accomplish.Runyon argues that the program is necessary for providing much needed child care and will have long-term cost-saving benefits. He actually negotiated the amount spent on the program down to a reasonable amount, he said.Others disagree with the criticism, saying that Runyon has worked to re-building a sense of trust from the community and the towns. Avon Mayor Ron Wolfe, a Republican, said Runyon was responsible for starting regular mayors and managers meetings, where county and town officials would meet for discussion.Its built a much better connection and understanding, and understanding is what builds trust, Wolfe said.Cohen said he is supporting Runyon because he believes in cooperation between municipalities. Things were really broken in this county as far as trust and cooperation before, Cohen said.Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.