EAGLE, Colorado - So far, trying to develop the pasture on the east side of Eagle has been a lesson in rejection for businessmen.
First, Merv Lapin's proposal for the Red Mountain Ranch shopping center failed to get approval from the town board in 2005.
Then this week, Eagle voters rejected Eagle River Station, plans for 552,000-square-feet of commercial space including a Target and 581 homes.
The town's "master plan" earmarks the roughly 100 acres south of I-70 for commercial development. Yet with two development plans for that property sent packing within about five years, it remains to be seen what sort of construction Eagle would embrace there.
Currently, the land belongs to Eagle River Station's backers, Trinity RED Eagle Development. They paid $19 million for the property in August 2008, according to published reports.
Trinity RED spokesman Paul Witt said the developers have not settled on a plan for the property.
"They're looking at all the options and they haven't made any decisions yet," he said.
An alternate plan
Some supporters of Eagle River Station say they would like to see Trinity RED approach the town with a different proposal for commercial development.
"I think frankly that [Trinity RED] probably would have the best shot at putting something together because they've already worked on it for so long and they have been through the process," Eagle resident Frances Rolater said.
If Trinity RED brought a new project to the table, there are signs a replica of Eagle River Station would meet with resistance. After all, a citizens' referendum to approve Eagle River Station failed, with just over 53 percent of voters saying "no" on Tuesday. The Eagle River Station plan would likely need to change before voters could embrace it.
Rolater said she would like to see changes to the proposed condos.
"I would like to see exploration of apartment units as opposed to everything being for sale," she said. "I think that Eagle really has a lack of good quality apartment buildings."
For Jan Rosenthal Townsend, a leader of the Eagle River Station opposition campaign, no development as big as Eagle River Station would pass muster.
"If someone's going to come back in with a project, it's going to need to be at least half the size of Eagle River Station," she said.
Another options for the developers would be selling the land. Trinity RED has not yet sought an appraisal for the property, Witt said.
Some local real estate agents doubt the land would sell for anywhere near the $19 million Trinity RED paid for it.
Rick Messmer, a broker for Prudential Colorado Properties in Eagle, estimates the property is worth just $600,000 to $800,000. He's basing that on the sale price of other local properties with similar zoning.
"Pinned in between two highways, no river frontage, no access to water on an 88-acre parcel - that $600,000 to $800,000 number is a relatively valid amount," he said.
Tim Fair, another real estate agent in Eagle, agrees the property is probably worth less than $19 million.
"I would tell you it's probably not anywhere close to that," he said.
Developers bought the property when the market was "still pretty hot," Fair said.
If they put the land up for sale now, it would face competition from a ton of other commercial properties, he said.
"If they were to put it up for sale, I don't know if it would go that fast," he said. "It would depend on how much they would ask for it."
Messmer contends that the property's zoning could be a deterrent for buyers looking to develop the land. The land is zoned "resource," meaning one home per 35 acres is allowed, town manager Willy Powell said. No retail development is allowed under that zoning, he said.
If the citizens' referendum on Eagle River Station had passed, special new zoning tailored to the project would have gone into effect, Powell said. That zoning would have allowed up to 580,000 square feet of commercial development, plus 581 condos, he said.
But the referendum failed, so the low-density resource zoning remains in place, Powell said.
"It's intended as a holding zone until such time as you receive a proposal and then you would rezoning it appropriately," he said.
Town trustee Roxie Deane said she the board has no immediate plans to change the zoning on the land. She said the board has not yet discussed the future of the property.
"I would like to take some input from citizens to see what they would like out there," she said.
Ideally, Rosenthal Townsend said she would like to see the land remain open space.
"I'm reasonable enough to know it may not stay pasture land forever, but in a perfect world, I'd love nothing more than to see it go into conservation easement," she said. "I just feel it's been ranchland for years, and I happen to like it just the way it is."
The Eagle Valley Land Trust has received calls from some people who want to see the land preserved.
"There's definitely two camps," Land trust Executive Director Kara Heide said. "There's a strong group that believes the I-70 corridor is something we should protect, and there are others that feel that would be nice but to protect the I-70 corridor, it's cost prohibitive."
Reasons why some community members think the land should remain open space are that it's a habitat for elk that stands at the gateway to the downvalley community, Heide said.
Town Trustee Stephen Richards said he thinks the land is more appropriate for commercial use because it stands between I-70 and Highway 6.
"I guess I'm one of the ones who didn't think that was an appropriate place for elk to be living because it's between two highways, so I don't see it as a major elk area," he said.
Situated at the end of the Chambers Avenue retail hub, he sees that area as ripe for an extension of commercial development.
"I always thought it should be commercial," he said. "The part of the plan [Eagle River Station] I didn't particularly care for is the housing out there. If i was going to live somewhere, I don't think I'd like to be between two highways."
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.