It should come as no surprise that the developer of the proposed Haymeadow subdivision was pleased and relieved by a judge’s ruling last week that the petitions calling for a referendum on the proposal were declared invalid.
“On behalf of myself, my partner Alan Cohen and the entire Haymeadow team, I would like to share our excitement that Haymeadow will now be able to move forward,” said developer Ric Newman Tuesday. Judge Cheryl Post, acting a hearing officer for a formal protest of the Haymeadow referendum petition process, upheld each of the challenges formally presented by resident Charles Hair. As a result, the petitions have been declared invalid and the Eagle Town Board’s Haymeadow approval stands.
“Needless to say we are pleased with Judge Post’s decision and thank Chuck Hair for filing the protest that made it possible. After nearly a decade of careful planning and collaboration with Eagle’s staff, board of trustees and planning and zoning commission, we are ready to begin work to make Haymeadow a reality,” said Newman.
Haymeadow, a 837-unit residential development proposed at the 660-acre parcel located just south of the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink property, was slated to go to a vote because the town received petitions containing 373 signatures calling for a citizen referendum for the project. Eagle Town Clerk Sarah Braucht certified that 310 of the signatures were valid, exceeding the threshold of 214 valid signatures required to refer the issue to a municipal election. The Eagle Town Board approved the Haymeadow proposal in a 6-1 vote on March 25.
However, as part of a referendum process, there is a protest period during which a citizen can question whether the petition process followed state law. In his formal protest, Hair cited six points that he alleged violated the rules. His protest covered issues ranging from technicalities laid out in state statute detailing the specific form for petitions and their accompanying affidavits, to questions about the propriety of a document titled “Haymeadow: Why to vote for a better plan for Eagle” that was carried by the petition circulators.
“I think Judge Post really just upheld the law,” said Hair. “A petition drive shouldn’t be taken lightly.”
Hair said collection of 214 signatures is a low threshold for a referendum petition effort. “To make it even lower by not adhering to the state statute is a dangerous precedent in my opinion,” Hair said.
“Until June 10th of this year, the developer has a right to 19 homes on Brush Creek – 35 acre lots. In a perfect world, I’d bet most citizens of Eagle would rather see green pastures and less traffic then 840 homes,” said Annie Egan, one of the leaders of the Haymeadow petition effort.
“All petitioners found that 90 to 100 percent of the people they contacted were against Haymeadow as proposed – that says a lot,” Egan continued. “I can only hope that I am wrong with my fears about traffic and the fiscal responsibilities facing the town with all the traffic mitigation. No matter how you disperse all the traffic, it still funnels into the bottle neck of Eby Crk roundabouts. So be it, time will tell. “
“As a trustee, I stand 100 percent behind the decision made by the town board,” said Eagle Town Board member Anne McKibbin.
“I fully recognize that there will always be some disagreement with the board’s decisions, but the board has to make its decisions based on the best interest of the town as a whole. Citizens certainly have the right to petition to put our decisions up for a vote, and citizens have an equal right to challenge that petition process if they feel it was not properly conducted. Both of these rights were exercised in this case,” said McKibbin.
“The process of getting something on a ballot is very carefully regulated, for very good reason,” McKibbin continued. “It does not require deep pockets; it simply takes devoting some time to reading the law and making sure the requirements are understood and being met, and importantly in this case, recognizing that the issue at hand is whether or not to put something to a vote, and not the start of a campaign to encourage people how to vote. That simply is not allowed as part of the petition effort. Judge Post was very clear on all these points in her ruling.”
“I am a process person so I certainly support that aspect and the developer protecting the many years of effort on this project,” said Eagle Town Board member Brandi Resa. “That being said, from my own experience through the large land use files (ERS and Haymeadow), the amount of time, energy, and money needed to have a strong voice in the outcome of a project against a large developer is extraordinary compared to what I feel should be the public process.”
“For the community, the positive is moving forward without another intense battle,” Resa said. “And hopefully another positive will be the traffic, financial and other studies being on target resulting in jobs, revenue, and many community benefits.”
Eagle Town Board member Luis Benitez noted he was not part of the original Haymeadow deliberations, but added, “I think something that the entire board agrees upon is that over 200 citizens put their signature on paper to let the town know that they have concerns about Haymeadow,” said Benitez. “That is something that none of us take lightly, regardless if the petition was deemed invalid by the judge.”