Vail Valley Voices: Rein in rural growth
Basalt, CO Colorado
On March 30, the delegates to the Eagle County Democra-tic Assembly adopted the Eagle County Democratic platform.
Two enthusiasti-cally supported planks discourage new cities from aris-ing in unincorporat-ed rural areas of Eagle County that lie outside town bound-aries, such as Dot-sero, Edwards and El Jebel. The assembly asked Eagle County to ” refrain from approving urban-style development that is located on land located outside incorpo-rated city limits” by a resound-ing vote of 28-9, with five atten-dees abstaining. The same question had already received approval of 37 out of 63 dele-gates voting by e- mail survey.
Two weeks ago, all 22 mem-bers present at the Democratic caucus of all Eagle County Roar-ing Fork precincts unanimously agreed to this and a specific res-olution against approving the El Jebel Tree Farm planned unit development. This means that more than three separate votes have overwhelmingly said, ” Let’s rein in development in rural areas of Eagle County that lie outside town limits.”
Proponents at Tuesday night’s meeting to rein in rural development said it will pro-mote development within incorporated cities where police, fire, school, library and parks facilities already exist; it will prevent sprawl from occur-ring in rural areas of Eagle County; and it is democratic and enhances accountability – county commissioners are largely immune from voter con-trol when they approve far-flung rural developments that affect a relatively small percentage of the county’s voters. In many cases, keeping development within incorporated towns will actually reduce property taxes because special metropolitan taxing districts are often formed in unincor-porated areas to compensate for lack of a town tax base. With the recent downturn, many metropolitan dis-tricts are struggling, and their members in unincor-porated areas have found their property taxes have risen and, in some cases, doubled, accord-ing to Mark Chapin, Eagle County assessor.
People who voted against the platforms or abstained appar-ently did so because they fear a vote to halt growth, but propo-nents believe it will simply steer growth to incorporated cities that have the facilities and administrative personnel to handle it. The Colorado state demographer expects Col-orado’s population to double from 5 million to 10 million people by 2050 regardless, so concerns that this platform will halt growth seem alarmist.
The Tree Farm project in unincorporated El Jebel pro-poses 320 new homes just north of and across state High-way 82 from the Basalt town boundary that snakes its way to City Market in El Jebel. Nine hundred approved homes in El Jebel have yet to be built, so with the Tree Farm, more than 1,200 homes might be added to an area that recently was pas-toral and rural. With 3,000 to 4,000 new residents, El Jebel becomes larger than Basalt, Silt, New Castle, Dillon, Frisco and many other well- estab-lished and historic towns. The Colorado Department of Transportation says the El Jebel intersection is the worst between Rifle and Aspen. Add thousands of new residents, and you have a ready- made set for a horror movie.
The town of Basalt, Pitkin County commissioners and numerous residents have requested that the Eagle Coun-ty commissioners turn down the Tree Farm subdivision, cit-ing cumulative impacts to the area. All have recommended that the developer request approval from and annex into the town of Basalt so that the Tree Farm residents will help pay for the Basalt services they’ll undoubtedly use.
Even though the Eagle Coun-ty Dems Assembly was open to the public and media, all three commissioners left the room for the half- hour debate on the platform proposals to limit rural growth. They were responding to a technical concern that dis-cussions of the pending Tree Farm PUD application should be held only at formal public hearings. That is unfortunate because they missed an oppor-tunity to hear how their con-stituents feel about rural growth in Eagle County.
I hope to see additional opportunities for discussion and balanced research of pub-lic opinion on this topic. Com-missioners should convene meetings both in the Eagle Riv-er Valley and the Roaring Fork Valley to discuss the merits of growth in unincorporated rural areas of the county. They need to hear from the silent majority of residents who think that development of subdivisions in rural areas is either counter-productive or a mistake.
Ken Ransford lives in Basalt.