‘We’ve beat up on the elk long enough’
EAGLE COUNTY – When the Eagle County Commissioners adopted a nine-month ban on new subdivisions in October, they promised to also develop strategies for “smarter” growth.Buoyed by some lofty goals, and governed by a timeline that bristles with deadlines and public hearings, the county is working on a series of growth-policy changes. If everything goes according to schedule – a big “if” given the nature of the public-review process – significant changes in how land-use decisions are made will be in place by the time the moratorium is lifted this summer. Those changes could require that future development decisions be made with an emphasis on three goals: Protecting the environment; emphasizing affordable housing; and balancing the local economy.
“I think we could have had more foresight in preserving more land,” says Annie Egan, an environmental activist who lives on Brush Creek. “I know development is going to happen – but we’ve got to plan for the big picture for everyone, including different species.”She’s encouraged by the commissioners’ new philosophy, she says, but is concerned that changing the regulations in an already developed valley amounts to a sort of a patch job.The proposals, if approved, could bring a significant change of approach in a valley known for fast-paced and high-priced development since Vail opened its slopes in the early 1960s. For aspiring builders, the changes may mean more restrictive rules and new hoops to jump through.Attribute the new attitude to the current board of county commissioners. Board members Arn Menconi and Peter Runyon, both Democrats, voted to put the moratorium into effect. Commissioner Tom Stone, the lone Republican, voted against the moratorium, saying the commissioners already had the ability to say ‘no’ to development. For the average citizen, the proposed changes would make the process for obtaining a zoning change a bit more rigorous, says Bob Narracci, a planning manager for the Eagle County.
The trend is not uncommon in mountain areas that have experienced rapid growth, he adds, citing Pitkin County, Telluride, and Jackson Hole as places that have tightened growth policies.”The quality of the environment is paramount – but people also understand the need for a vibrant economy, and the need to house workers,” Narracci says.Since 1990, the county’s population has increased from 24,060 to 51,972. Eagle County Planning Commission Chairman John King, a project manager for one of the valley’s larger contractors, says the time is right for tighter growth policies. “The general consensus in the valley is that we’re at a point where the remaining growth that’s going to occur needs to be done the right way,” he says. King is particularly pleased with the effort to put “more teeth” into wildlife protection, he says.
“We’ve beat up on the deer and the elk long enough,” King says. “It is time to start giving them a little bit of a break.”The county planning commission has already initiated hearings on the first of the revisions, the “ECO Build” building code that, if implemented, would promote energy efficiency, renewable power, use of sustainable building materials, and improved indoor air quality for new residential development.Vail, Colorado