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2010-01-07
Eagle, CO. Voters Reject Target Project

It took more than three years, but the voters in Eagle, Colorado finally got the chance to clip the wings of a huge, big box project. On March 19, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that citizens in Eagle, Colorado were battling to stop a massive "mixed-use" project from landing in their town. Sprawl-Busters received a report from residents in Eagle, who initially organized a group called "The Citizens for the Future of Eagle" (CFE). They were fighting a proposed mixed-use project called "Eagle River Station," which would be located at the gateway of the community. Kansas City and Georgia based Trinity/Red Development's proposal was for a 615,000 square foot "lifestyle center" with two big-box anchors, 34,000 square feet of highway commercial space, a 260,000 square foot private Christian school, a 150-room hotel, and 581 residential units. Developers claimed the 100 acre project was going to 'create' 2,200 new jobs in this community of roughly 6,000 residents. Eagle already has five business districts (including a $5 million newly renovated downtown) all of which currently suffer from worker shortages and some vacant stores. The 580 residential units, if filled to capacity, had the potential to increase Eagle's overall population by 30%, taxing local services and public schools. Eagle River Station (ERS) would also generate 27,000 car tips per day. A traffic study estimated the traffic on Interstate 70 would increase 30% to 40% -- but the study failed to take into account any of the traffic that would have occurred on Highway 6 once the "proposed" public high school gets built on the far east of that same property. The Eagle Planning and Zoning Commission rejected the original zoning application for the development in November, 2006 for being non-compliant with Eagle's Area Community Plan (EACP), which states "concentrate development in and around the Town of Eagle maintaining the existing small town, non-resort atmosphere of the town" and "maintain traditional, rural small town development patterns and architectural style." ERS is essentially building "a new town" two miles from the heart of downtown. Furthermore, the development will require $66.8 million in infrastructure improvements and although the developer claimed that they were "paying their own way," those improvements would have been funded by Eagle taxpayers (and shoppers) and the town would wind up paying the developer $5.4 million from the tax revenues generated from the development for the next 20 years. In addition to stopping the massive "Eagle River Station" development, the CFE formed a committee of proactive citizens and business owners dedicated to collaboration with the citizens of Eagle, the EACP Advisory Committee, the Business Community, The Eagle Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Eagle and Eagle County, in order to develop short and long-term ideas which will stimulate Eagle's economy and enhance its community character. This week, more than three years after this project first tried to spread its wings in Eagle, it was the activists instead who were soaring in celebration of their victory at the polls over this inappropriately scaled development. The group released the following statement to Sprawl-Busters: "In a record voter turnout, the people of the Town of Eagle gave thumbs down to Eagle River Station (ERS), a 550,000 square foot "lifestyle center" complete with big box stores, a main street, hotel and 581 multi family units proposed for the town's pastoral gateway. This vote ends a 3-year tug-of-war over the future of this unique rural community which lies between the world class resorts of Vail/Beaver Creek and the tourist town of Glenwood Springs, CO. After years of heated town meetings and public debate, the Eagle Town Board voted in favor of the development November 4, 2009 and the board opted to bring the issue to a public referendum. Trinity/ RED Development, a joint venture between a commercial developer out of Kansas City, MO, and a small Atlanta Developer, had purchased 88 acres between the town and Interstate 70 with the intent of building the mixed use center. Target was a named anchor, but a Letter of Intent was never submitted to the Town. The debate that roared and divided this town of nearly 6,000 people attracted 2,200 voters, the largest turnout in Eagle's history. The No voters prevailed with 53.5% of the votes versus 46.3% Yes votes. It should be noted that thousands of Eagle area residents couldn't vote on the issue, since their neighborhoods have never been annexed into the town. 'It took a lot of courage for citizens to vote on the basis of their values instead of on the promise of jobs and more sales tax income, especially in this economy,' offered Eagle Town Trustee, Scot Hunn, a planner by vocation and one of the two town board members who voted against the project. 'There was a tremendous amount of education that had to be done and I'm proud that so many people took the time to really learn about the financial deal and the many inaccuracies the developer presented,' Hunn added. Citizen activist, Jan Rosenthal Townsend, an Eagle citizen and a local business owner who led the fight and rarely missed a meeting in three years, held an all night vigil with supporters while the ballots were being counted. Rosenthal Townsend has continually lobbied for smart growth, saying that the proposal was just too big, not unique and was way too speculative. When news of the victory finally came at 3:15 a.m., she and the other revelers had a champagne toast and then started talking about what is next for Eagle. 'This is a victory for the future of Eagle. Now we have a chance to start over, brainstorm various ideas and zero in on development that fits with our character and is in the right location,' said Rosenthal Townsend. Hunn called this a real turning point for Eagle. 'We now have the opportunity and the obligation to begin planning a sustainable and visionary future. I'd like to see an economic development council formed to help us create sound planning around the values the people of Eagle clearly hold,' he said. The opposition's stance in the debate centered around preserving the unique, small town character of the western mountain town which has deep roots in agriculture, ranching and in recent decades, resort services, recreation and construction. Hunn sees Eagle as perfectly positioned to create sustainable commercial opportunities that enhance all aspects of the town's western heritage and character. He goes on to say 'this is in no way a no growth stance -- we can give direction to would-be investors and developers as to what is important to the town and what we actually need by way of living-wage jobs, new industry and diversification.' The opposition felt that the market and impact studies provided by RED were outdated and did not justify their projections. ERS proponents embraced more shopping opportunities, the promise of jobs and increased sales tax. But ERS opponents called for supporting existing small businesses that have been springing to life through recent commercial construction and downtown renovations. Opponents also focused on financial projections, contending that tax revenues, occupancy and job creation was outweighed by the cost to the town, impact on local businesses, traffic and environmental concerns. Rosenthal Townsend added, 'We at Team NO want to embark on new beginnings. We foresee a bright future for the Town of Eagle and want to move forward with positive ideas & solutions. We will now become the YES team. YES to all of us coming together for a common, workable vision for our beloved town. Please contact us at noboxineagle@aol.com if you would like to become a part of this exciting new group!'

What you can do: The town's website says that "Eagle residents narrowly voted down the controversial Eagle River Station project Tuesday. For: 1,019. Against: 1,175." But the fact that a citizen's group was able to overcome a monied developer is a very impressive accomplishment. Readers are urged to email Eagle Trustee Scot Hunn at scotforeagle@hotmail.com with the following message: "Dear Trustee Hunn, Thank you for being vocal on the issue of the Eagle River Station project. This is one Eagle that you don't want nesting in your city. You can't buy small town quality of life on any shelf at Target -- and once they take it from you -- you can't buy it back at any price. These huge sprawling projects are not a form of economic development, but simply displace existing jobs and revenues. Thank you for seeing that, and for allowing the voters in Eagle to have the chance to clip the wings of the Eagle River Station. These projects are called 'lifestyle' centers because they enhance the lifestyle of the developer -- but do very little for anyone else."










 
 
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