Don’t build Wolcott proposal

Where are the NIMBYs protesting Wolcott?

Oh, that’s right. There aren’t any. It is now up to the rest of us to stand up and say what we want Eagle County to look like. What will it look like in 10 years? 25 years? 50 years?

The developer of Wolcott, Rick Hermes, is a sales genius of epic proportions. He has done a remarkable job of convincing everyone that the development of Wolcott is not only inevitable, but that his plan is the best possible way to develop it. Any plan other than his would be a mistake. Really?

He even convinced the two local homeowner associations to write letters of support. It is important to note that this was only after he had made presentations to them (complete with slick brochures and power points featuring idealized illustrations).

‘I’d like to see an arrested growth of development. You can’t stop it, but it’s important we do something about the developers having the upper hand.’
John Murray

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Call me cynical, but please also note that no one was asked to present arguments in opposition.

Recently, I presented a few arguments in opposition at one of the commissioner hearings. Here are some of the points I made:

1. It is not inevitable. It is totally in the hands of the Eagle County commissioners. About 20 years ago, our neighbor to the north, Routt County (home of Steamboat) made a policy decision to never even consider a large development outside of the towns. Every board of commissioners there since has upheld that policy.

2. Wolcott is a leapfrog development at its worst. Most land planners believe that “infill development” is at the core to smart growth.

3). In a 2007 survey of Eagle County, the number one choice answering the question of what can the Commissioners do to control growth was to maintain buffer zones. The stretch between Eagle and Edwards is over 14 miles. Combining the already approved Eagle River Station with a major development at Wolcott all but eliminates that buffer. Non-stop development from east Vail to Dotsero, here we come.

4. The same survey asked the question: “Name the one change that could improve the quality of life in Eagle County.” The top unaided response was “limit growth.”

5. My much used talking point (while it seems to be getting old, it is still true): Eagle County has around 30,000 existing housing units. On top of that there are approximately an additional 15,000 to 20,000 units that have already been approved and that can be built starting tomorrow. The takeaway is that without one single new approval, we are slated to grow over 50 percent. A few of the larger developments: Battle Mountain, which calls for over 1,000 units. Traer Creek in Avon could top 1,000 units. The Haymeadow in Eagle slides in just under 1,000. Eagle River Station plans 550 apartments and three-quarters of a million square feet of commercial space. There are many more. Adding Wolcott to this list does nothing to make them disappear.

6. It is a mistake for Eagle County to take on another non-town town like Edwards. The problems are too extensive to enumerate here, but a few to consider are: No local sales tax puts businesses at a competitive advantage over the towns. The residents have no directly elected officials. The county is required to provide services like police and roads.

7. The hard truth is that before the collapse, fully 40 percent of our workforce was directly or indirectly involved with construction. There is not an economic model in existence that would say that this percentage is sustainable. So we must decide what is more important. Do we vainly try to adhere to an unsustainable economic model? Or do we say “enough” to the insatiable appetite of a handful of wealthy developers intent on paving over paradise? I believe that our strongest economic model is to preserve this unique mountain resort community, not to constantly erode it with more and more urbanization.

There is still time to have your voice heard. Write a letter to the commissioners. Write a letter to the paper. Go to the next big all-day hearing at the county on June 26.

I know you are out there. You elected me twice knowing that my principal motivation for running was to manage growth. So please step up with me and let the commissioners know how you feel.

Peter Runyon, of Edwards, served two terms as an Eagle County commissioner.

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