The growth question |

The growth question

Don Rogers

The new majority of Eagle County’s commissioners are teeing up a discussion ” and decisions ” that will have the most profound effect on the county’s future than possibly any before this one.

Basically, they are beginning to talk about strategically shutting the tap on growth in the county. If you thought water was for fighting over, that ain’t nuthin’ compared to the dust-up to come shortly.

Growth here is indeed surging again. Unchecked, it’s not hard to see a whole lot more second homes ” the profit makers for builders and everyone connected to building. The demand for second homes is still peaking, and there’s way more than this valley and ridgetops and side valleys can hold.

The year-round population is expected to double over the next 20 to 25 years. Could be sooner if the booms outpace the busts between now and then. But that’s impossible to forecast from today.

There is a lot of sentiment for slowing things down, stopping the tide, no more building (repeat after me!). But then, most of the jobs here are tied to the very construction industry that threatens to throttle us. Builders, architects, banks and other money lenders, real estate agents and so on. Even the ski industry is tied closely to building.

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We’re definitely not of one mind here. As much as we want to keep this valley less cluttered, well, we need the jobs and income and all that.

And then there are the politics, which set themselves up very tidely with conservative and liberal approaches to governance.

The previous conservative regimes in this county gave developers a freer hand and showed more fealty to individual property rights than faith in central command schemes. We’ve built, sometimes in hodge-podge fashion, and prices have soared maybe a little less than those communistic counties of Pitkin and Boulder. Not much less, though.

Now we have two liberal-minded county commissioners, for the first time, really. And they have a lot more trust in strategically limiting development than respect for individual property rights. I’m sure they won’t like this characterization, but it’s true.

So we’re looking at the construction-related folks getting frustrated pretty quickly. And we’ll see just how much clout they really have.

I’m looking forward to these discussions, personally. I’m not against slowing down this rush to build ” which I’ll bet will lead to over-building when it comes to big boxes, hotels, and maybe everything except second homes. That demand is so beyond anything we could provide it’s breath-taking. It’s also where the profit lies, and where our troubles with low wage jobs and few places for low wage workers threaten to overwhelm us.

What will make Eagle County and places like it less palatable will be the employment shortages, not ohmygod all this development. The ski hills and golf courses will provide plenty of vacation refuge for the wealthy folks who seek them out. And anyone with any real sense will be able to figure out that a county that’s 85 percent public wildland will know how to be in all the open space they can handle within minutes from any busy spot along the I-70 corridor in Eagle County.

Hey, I am pro open space in the main valley too, but I’m not going to ignore the essential fact of the matter. The other tough part for the current majority of commissioners and longer residents is this: There’s a whole crop of people who will come here for all the conveniences that come with a suburbia in the mountains. That includes big box shopping, more “culture,” perhaps eventually cheaper gas and things like high quality medical care ” all that and the mountains right there, too.

It should be quite a discussion.

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