Romer: A story of government overreach
I want to tell you a story. I’m going to ask you to take a moment to listen and try to avoid distractions while I tell you this story.
This is a story about a landowner looking to use their property for the allowed zoning. Property that a previous town council approved development on and property by which the Eagle County District Court previously ruled met all requirements related to pedestrian circulation and environmental mitigation plans. I want you to picture this property.
Suddenly neighbors rush up. Neighbors who have not opposed single-family homes or duplex development and neighbors who have been silent about other impacts in the area. They try everything they know to prevent the landowner from developing. They complain about traffic. They complain about the impression on guests on I-70. They complain and complain. And when they finish complaining, they find a town council receptive to stealing the land via eminent domain (let’s call it condemnation as that sounds less draconian). They ignore the Eagle County Court rulings and move forward.
Now comes the public hearings. Of course, everyone recognizes the need for workforce housing – that is universally accepted as one of our top issues; most agree that our employers have a role in addressing our housing issue. But no, don’t build here in a location zoned for housing that the previous council approved. Don’t build in a wildlife corridor with numerous single-family homes built without opposition.
Can you see it? Can you picture this private property? I want you to picture that property the government is looking to take away. Now imagine it is your property. Because should the town be successful in condemnation, your private property could be next.
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All due apologies to John Grisham’s novel “A Time to Kill” for the adaptation of the closing courtroom scene. It seemed an appropriate method by which to condemn the town of Vail’s approach to the proposed development in East Vail. Condemnation of private property because a government body doesn’t like the use (allowed by zoning) should have bipartisan and universal opposition.
Because – much like “A Time to Kill” – we’ve lost focus on the issue at hand. Of course, we have a housing issue, and of course, there are environmental impacts (as is the case for every single development in the county). But the real issue at hand is government overreach. We should all be scared at the precedent set by a government looking to forcefully take private property.
The Daily has done a good job reporting on the East Vail development process. I’m not here to change anyone’s mind about the project. The courts have ruled development can occur. We should all share the concern about the condemnation of private property regardless of your opinion on workforce housing, or your opinion on environmental impacts of development.
To be clear and transparent, we are housing advocates and have a long history of supporting workforce housing projects throughout the Eagle River Valley. This project meets our criteria for support. Public sentiment for workforce housing has long been favorable and this project meets an important need for housing within the town of Vail limits. But in this case, it’s not about housing – it’s about the role of government.
Government seizure of private lands is extreme action and should be opposed. The town of Vail has taken strides to be a good partner in addressing the workforce housing issue through the development of projects such as Lions Ridge and Residences at Main Vail and programs such as Vail InDEED. Throwing away this goodwill through government overreach is ill-advised and unfortunate.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com.