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Why I support Eaton deal

Peter Runyon

I’m jealous. Yes, it’s true. I’m jealous of people who can see complex issues through lenses that reduce everything to black and white. I freely admit that my lenses show shades of gray. It is my job as your county commissioner to evaluate those grays and come to the best possible decisions.The recent Eaton Ranch proposal was just such an issue. Was it the best possible deal for the county? Probably not. It was full of those troubling gray tones. Please allow me to dispel the accusation that we rushed into this decision without due consideration and give you a review from my perspective.I held my announcement party for commissioner at the Mustang Bar & Grill in Edwards precisely because of my concern regarding the adjacent Eaton property then under contract to a reputable builder, Rick Hermes, who had recently outbid the Vail Valley Foundation. I was concerned because Mr. Hermes had filed for water rights sufficient to build 350 dwelling units, a hotel and 450,000 square feet of commercial space. Call me old-fashioned, but I felt that this exceeds the reasonable concept of “infill.” Any reasonable projection of the traffic impact would come up with an additional 3 million car trips per year on the spur road, almost doubling the current load. Additionally, the new commercial space would create in excess of 1,000 low-paying jobs thus putting additional demands on affordable housing throughout the valley. Then, for reasons unknown, Mr. Hermes allowed his contract with the seller to expire. At that point the Vail Valley Foundation stepped back in, increased its bid, and put the property under contract for $12 million with a September 2005 closing date. Interestingly, Mr. Hermes chose to turned up the heat on the foundation by immediately placing a back up offer for the property with the seller in the event the foundation failed to raise the money by the September deadline. Originally, I didn’t envision the Eaton land as 100 percent open space for the same reason, I suspect, that the dedicated Edwards Sub Area Master Plan Committee never contemplated the option. Simply I, and I think they, believed that no one in their right mind would expect that such prime land could be held apart from the all-consuming development of Edwards. Indeed they would most likely have been fired from their task if they proposed such a fanciful dream world option. Thus, to quote the master plan as “proof” that we are doing the wrong thing is disingenuous at best. We have a serendipitous opportunity that would be foolish to let pass.Unfortunately, the commissioners weren’t offered a complete open hand in this deal. The box we were placed in January left us very little wiggle room in which to negotiate, or explore options. The first closed door was that the foundation was adamant that they won’t be able to raise the $6 million that they had committed to unless it was to be all open space. Say goodbye to negotiations with neighbors. Say goodbye to other public use for some of the land. Goodbye.The second closed door was the first rule of negotiation: The strongest negotiation position is held by the side willing to walk away from the deal. Clearly the foundation held this high ground. They had just demonstrated their willingness to walk away 12 months earlier when they were bidding against Hermes. That record gave them enormous negotiating power. I would have loved to have said, “Vail Valley Foundation, Eagle County can only pledge $3 million, take it or leave it.” Unfortunately, I am convinced they would have walked away as they did before. I was unwilling for Eagle County to face the prospect of an additional 3 million cars a year.There is another argument that has been used to malign our decision. Basically, it says that if you stop the developers here they will just go somewhere else in the county. I hate to disillusion you my friends, but these developers already have these “somewhere elses” in their sights. If we don’t take selected parcels out of the mix where and when we can, they will systematically pave the valley from Vail pass to Dotsero. They are a multi-headed hydra. Each head has its own separate plan independent of the others. Keep in mind, these developers already have permission to build 13,000 dwelling units in the county without so much as a please or thank you, and there are an additional 10,000 that can be built under existing zoning. Every time a builder receives permission to up zone, those disturbing totals go up, and up, and up.So is the Eaton property the best deal? No. But in my spectrum of grays the balance tips towards supporting the Vail Valley Foundation’s admirable effort to preserve this core piece of land for future generations to enjoy. I urge you all to help and make your individual contributions to the common good. Peter Runyon is an Eagle County commissioner.Vail, Colorado


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