Vail Daily letter: Government taking of my property outside Eagle?
Vail, CO, Colorado
It has recently been brought to my attention that the currently proposed Eagle Area Master Plan now includes recommendations to effectively “down zone” several small properties including our property located at 1495 Eby Creek Road from its current zoned 2 acre RR (rural residential zoning) to an agricultural 35-acre zoning.
When my wife, Julie Stoxen, and I contemplated purchasing this parcel and relocating to the Eagle area in 1996, we met with the Eagle town manager and town planner to confirm the existing zoning and future development potential of this parcel.
We were told that with the property’s existing RR zoning (2 acre zoning), it was in the town of Eagle’s Master Plan 20-year growth circle. This meant the town, in compliance with the existing master plan, intended to support future development of the property with necessary town of Eagle water supply, similar to the adjacent Eby Creek Mesa at that time. We have been waiting patiently since that time as we contemplate future plans for our property.
The county had previously approved this RR zoning at the request of previous land owners. This approval allowed these owners to sell these RR zoned properties for a higher value than agricultural 35-acre parcels.
We had a discussion with Terrill Knight from Knight Planning to confirm the county’s zoning and future development rights of this property.
I personally participated in many of the prolonged Eagle Area Master Plan revision meetings approximately two years ago in which a few individuals were lobbying to “down zone” certain parcels outside the town’s current boundaries.
I voiced my concern over these ideas as equaling a “taking of the land” from current property owners. After many discussions with the Citizens Advisory Committee and Consultant and other concerned citizens. I was left with the clear understanding that any future master plan modifications would respect the existing RR zoning of the few properties to the north of town adjacent to the existing Eby Creek Mesa subdivision. (Our property borders Eby Creek Subdivision, Phase III, on their north and west sides.)
The current final draft of the Eagle Area Community Plan that proposes to affectively change the existing rural residential zoning to an agricultural zoning, thereby limiting future potential development to one home per 35 acres, is in direct conflict with the intent of the consultant and the citizens who voluntarily served on the committee.
This proposed zoning change is also in direct conflict with the language written in this very same final draft on page 14 under Goals, Policies and Strategies, Land Use Goal No. 2: Policy 2.1) Recommended Strategies: 2.1) 3 “Maintain existing zoning and the rural character of the landscape on unincorporated lands located outside of the town’s urban growth boundary.”
What has happened to transparency in this public master planning process? Nowhere in this final draft do I see a transparent policy, goal or strategy to strip current property owners of their existing zoning or entitlements.
There were also discussions at that time regarding the appropriateness of transitioning from a somewhat dense subdivision to larger 35-acre tracts with RR zoning.
I think that it is essential that a certain level of trust is maintained between the county government and its citizens. I feel it is unconscionable for county government to grant certain zoning to one property owner and then with the stroke of a pen take the very zoning they approved away.
We did not purchase this property speculatively with the hopes of changing or “upzoning” the property but with the complete confidence and trust in our local government that existing zoning would be recognized and not be removed.
My wife and I thought we were forward thinking and planning for the future when we decided to purchase this property and relocate to the Eagle area in 1996 with our 6-month-old daughter. We relied on the entitlements that this property had been granted by our Eagle County government to consummate our decision to purchase this property.
Since the property was located within the town’s 20-year projected growth bubble, we anticipated the potential to utilize these entitlements to help pay for our daughter Maggie’s college education and perhaps a future building site for her to reside on some day.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to invest in an ocean-front condominium on the island of Margarita, Venezuela, at a very reasonable price. I passed on this seemingly extraordinary opportunity to own inexpensive beach front property due to the instability of the new government with Hugo Chavez at the helm.
I was concerned that at some point in the future Mr. Chavez and his administration would seize the property, thereby ending what was an extraordinary opportunity at the time of purchase. In short, I did not trust the Venezuelan government enough to make an investment in real property there.
Today I sit in disbelief to learn that the investment I made in RR zoned county property immediately adjacent to Eby Creek Mesa just outside the town of Eagle is now subject to a similar taking of private property rights that had concerned me regarding purchasing beach-front property on Margarita Island in Venezuela.
The irony here is that a friend of mine ended up purchasing the very beach-front Venezuela property that I passed on and still owns it, while I am about to lose my property rights and existing zoning right here in Eagle County, Colorado, by means of a few individuals successfully lobbying to essentially down zone our RR property to agricultural status.
There are several property descriptions utilized in the Eagle Area Community Plan, Final Draft, that more accurately reflect the RR properties located along Eby Creek Road rather than the agricultural land use map designation description currently recommended.
Three of the more accurate descriptions that recognize and respect current zoning intentions are: Countryside (CS), Outlying Rural Subdivision (ORS) and Conservation Oriented Development (COD).
The most accurate zone for these properties, Countryside (CS), is currently being used along nearly the entire length of Brush Creek Road for similar parcels.
I believe this designation also accurately represents the mix of properties along Eby Creek Road north of town.
I believe that in the USA there are other tools available such as conservation easements to provide incentive for citizens and property owners to down zone their properties where the public desires more open space.
Please make the appropriate changes to the currently proposed Eagle Area Master Plan to halt this inverse condemnation and recognize and honor the existing zoning currently in place on these few parcels north and west of Eby Creek Mesa.
Please restore trust in our county government and make the plan comply with the intent of the prior consultant and committee members as described in the plan’s final draft.
Gary Gilman lives on Eby Creek Road north of Eagle.