Bad idea for community
On Tuesday, the Eagle County Board of County Commissioners will hear a land use request that if two of the three commissioners approve it, could have a resoundingly negative impact on open space in Eagle County.
The request is from Rick Mueller and the Remenov Co. to rezone a 1.3-acre parcel adjacent to Homestead and remove restrictive plat notes which will take the property from open space to high density residential, with the stated intent (and it is only stated) of donating the land to Habitat for Humanity to build 16 homes. The property is known as Tract K of the Remonov Center and is west of the Edwards firehouse and the Edwards Post Office.
While Remonov Co. may dispute that this is open space, the Eagle County Planning and Zoning Commission and the tax assessor do not. At the May 1 Planning Commission meeting three of the four commissioners specifically stated that while this parcel does not have the words “open space” included on the plat notes, it is de facto open space. The Planning Commission voted 4-0 to recommend denial of this application.
Also, the property has been taxed as open space for over 30 years. The tax bill is $25 a year. While there are some limited uses the land could be used for, housing is not one of them.
For those unfamiliar with the controversy, several Homestead residents joined together and put up a web site to share information on this. It is http://www.tractk.com
Given that Eagle County has collected tens of millions of dollars in taxes to go out and purchase open space, it is hard to believe we are even having a serious community discussion about giving some up, yet this is a very serious discussion.
While no one I know has a problem with Habitat for Humanity building homes per se, this is not an appropriate place to build them for a wide variety of reasons. This is a land use issue first and foremost. Approving this request would be one of the most ill-advised, precedent-setting actions I can think of seeing any government entity make in the 35 years I have lived here.
There are many things wrong with this request. For starters, this land was bargained for by Remonov as a buffer zone between residential and commercial, and the restrictive plat notes were signed off on by Remonov Co. when they developed Edwards Village Center adjacent to Tract K. Rick Mueller gave his word in writing that he would limit the uses of this parcel to non-motorized recreation, drainage and utilities. Now he wishes to erase his signature, so to speak, from that commitment.
Remonov Co. cut a deal with the people of the county, took the tax breaks and now wants their development rights back decades later and after hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax breaks that will never be repaid. And never mind that inconvenient notion that homeowners in Homestead expected Remonov Co. to keep its written promise to restrict the use of the land to what limitations they voluntarily put on it to get the shopping center approval they wanted so badly at the time. Indeed, making written promises, getting paid for those promises, and then breaking that promise and getting paid again could be a profitable business model for anybody.
There are approximately 200 parcels of land in Eagle County that are privately owned and enjoy similar tax breaks because their owners agreed to similar plat restrictions. If this is approved, it could set a precedent for those owners to ask for their development rights back. If you live near a parcel that you think is open space, you had best research who owns it, and if it’s not owned by a homeowners association or government entity or administered by the Land Trust, watch out.
Also, the Remonov Co. is not making a charitable contribution in any traditional sense. Remonov is asking Eagle County for 64 transferable employee housing credits that they can sell off to other developers to offset future affordable housing requirements. Eagle County has a system in place to do this, and they have done it before, and the Planning and Zoning Commission speculated that these credits are likely worth millions to Remonov.
Third, this property sits in a flood plain for drainage from upper Homestead, and engineering studies done by Remonov’s own engineers (and others going back to the 1980s) confirm this and call for putting the homes one foot above flood stage for a 100-year flood. Parking and play areas will remain in the flood zone. That is part of the reason this parcel was chosen to be left vacant and plated as open space 30 years ago.
In addition, some sort of flood mitigation system will have to be built and maintained at the expense of Habitat homeowners. A 2010 engineering proposal done for Remonov proposed some type of underground water storage system to hold water displaced by the infill of the lot (think swimming pool size). While it is true the property could be built on, what would be the comfort level of those living there and as the Remonov Co. has demanded that their engineers refuse to discuss what it might take to mitigate the flood risk what are they hiding?
Fourth, the entrance to the community will share a narrow, 24-foot-wide driveway serving the firehouse, ambulances, Vail Mountain Rescue and the Edwards Post Office. The ambulance district and fire district have expressed serious safety concerns about additional vehicle and pedestrian traffic sharing their driveway.
While the Remonov Co. correctly maintains that development fits the future land use map, it is very apparent to anyone studying that map that someone got carried away with their crayons when coloring in suggested land uses for lower Homestead. Indeed, several parcels of Homestead’s open space is designated on that map as suitable for development, and I would note that Rick Mueller sat on that committee and had some influence over what was designated and how. Rick Mueller is both president of the Remonov Co. and a member of the Habitat for Humanity Board, and Remonov Co. may make millions off this deal.
This land use action is opposed by the Eagle County Planning and Zoning Commission, the Eagle River Fire District, the Edwards Metro District, the Edwards Community Authority, the Ambulance District, the Homestead Homeowners Association, the Stags Leap Homeowners Association, and the Vail Board of Realtors. In addition, hundreds have signed two different petitions opposing this. I cannot recall any project ever that has garnered such solid and wide spread opposition county wide.
If you are concerned about this, please visit http://www.tractk.com to learn more and attend the Eagle County commissioners meeting Tuesday, and let your presence be felt and your voice heard asking the commissioners to deny this request.
Chris Neuswanger is a Homestead resident.