Eagle voters overturned themselves Tuesday by approving the Eagle River Station development with 1,247 votes in favor and 1,022 votes against - a 55 percent to 45 percent margin.
That result represents a flip-flop from the community's 2010 vote when the proposal was rejected. With the results in hand, developer Trinity RED Eagle plans to proceed with lining up tenants and laying the groundwork for construction.
"This vote is a starting place for us. Now we go out and sell the project," said Jeff McMahon of RED Development. "This means that now our work begins."
Eagle River Station is a commercial/residential project proposed by Trinity RED Development headquartered in Kansas City, Mo. The 88-acre site is located south of Interstate 70 and north of U.S. Highway 6 on the east end of Eagle. The ERS proposal would include 582,000 square feet of commercial space and 250 rental units in its first phase. A second phase calls for up to 150,000 square feet of additional commercial space and another 300 rental units. The ERS battle has been furiously fought in the Eagle community this spring following a 6-1 vote by the Eagle Town Board on March 27 to approve the project.
Tuesday night, McMahon thanked the crew of citizens who worked on the Yes to ERS campaign.
"It feels fantastic to win, but I want to say I am very humbled by it. It wouldn't have happened without the people of Eagle stepping up and working so hard for us," said McMahon.
Mitch Hayne of the citizen group Vote Yes to Eagle was one of those citizen volunteers.
"We had a great core group of workers. There were a lot of people pulling for this," said Hayne. "I think the whole town won. Not everyone realizes that yet but ERS is really going to be a benefit to our community."
On the subject of community, both sides agree its time to get past the ugliness of the election.
"Our immediate goal is to help the town mend itself and get over the divisiveness of the last few weeks. We respect the opposition and we want to work toward helping Eagle get back to being a great community," McMahon said.
Moving ahead also was a theme echoed by the ERS opponents.
"Of course the Eagle CO - Keep it real campaign was hoping for a different outcome," said Brandi Resa on behalf of the group. "We, like the proponents, want the town to prosper, so hopefully the project is as successful as touted.
"We are glad we can move on as a community without having to go through this again in another 18 months and we look forward to being a part of bringing in those retailers that fit our community," Resa continued. "We ask that even with this approval, everyone in the community continue to provide other ideas for growth and increasing tax revenues as we have five other business districts. And we ask that everyone take a deep breath and put behind us the ugliness of the last two campaigns. Please continue to participate in the future of Eagle by shopping local, speaking with your trustees, coming to town meetings, and volunteering in our great community. Even with this approval, we ask that you keep it real."
"We are of course, are very disappointed with the outcome of the election, but we concede to the fact that the majority of residents (the ones that could actually vote), envision a very different future for Eagle than we do," said Jan Rosenthal Townsend, another vocal ERS critic. "We hope that we can come together as a community, start the healing process and all help shape the project, by offering input as to what type of stores we think would be successful and sustainable. We also hope that we can all collectively brainstorm an array of other ideas to help drive Eagle's economic engine and welcome the opportunity to be a part of that important ongoing process."
While the numbers were slightly higher, the turnout percentage was slightly lower for Tuesday's ERS election compared to the 2010 vote. There were 2,269 votes cast (2,270 if you count the single blank ballot that was turned in) and there are 3,880 registered voters in town. That's an approximately 57.5 percent turnout compared to 2010's 61 percent turnout.
Mail-in ballots comprised the majority of Tuesday's vote. Eagle Town Clerk Marilene Miller mailed out 1,720 ballots and an additional 139 residents requested mail in/absentee ballots. Of that number, 1,524 were returned.
On Tuesday afternoon, most of the approximately 20 citizens contacted regarding their vote declined comment on the matter. Those who agreed to share their reasoning requested to do so anonymously.
An Eagle mother with two preschool-age children said she voted yes. "I really was going to vote no, but I thought what does Eagle really have to lose?" she said "Gypsum has Costco and Eagle is in a slump."
Another voter - a male resident of the community for 10 years - said he also voted yes. "I am pro money. I like having funding and I like progressive-ness. Let's go for it."
A woman who has lived in Eagle for 11 years and for many more years in the valley was also a yes. "I voted yes because I think our town needs the sales tax money to help with infrastructure. It's a great opportunity for Eagle and we can all benefit from it."
On the other side of the issue, a longtime Eagle couple said they were casting "no" votes. Even though he is a building trades professional, the man said he couldn't support the ERS proposal.
"I think it's the wrong project at the wrong time and I don't see the residential or commercial need at this time, especially with so many empty storefronts in town and so many homes going into foreclosure."
"We think the town should consider a casino. An old-fashioned type of casino," offered his wife. "It may sound crazy but that's what we think should happen."
With Tuesday's approval, that idea isn't on the table, but McMahon noted that he attended the International Association of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas last weekend. He said there was strong interest from potential tenants for the ERS project.
"There is quite a lot of tenants who want to do deals and this is a deal that can get done," said McMahon. "This is going to be a great project."