Avon developers want to switch school site | VailDaily.com

Avon developers want to switch school site

Tamara Miller

The Village at Avon developers want to relocate a proposed elementary school for the third time since the development was approved and they are turning to the U.S. Forest Service for help.

Traer Creek, LLC is seeking permission to build a road across 80 acres of Forest Service land located north of the Eagle River and the commercial stretch of U.S. Highway in Eagle-Vail. The road would provide access to a future school, which Traer Creek now wants to put on private property east of the forest lands.

The developers originally planned to build a school in the main Village at Avon development near Wal-Mart Supercenter and The Home Depot. Traer Creek then moved the school site to the north side of Interstate 70, near the William J. Post Boulevard interchange on I-70.

The change, and the development’s size, has irritated some residents.

“I don’t particularly like the Village at Avon, but the changes they are doing are making it even worse,” said Kristi Ferraro, Avon resident. “It’s not good for the residents of Avon.”

Nevertheless, the idea has some major supporters.

The school district prefers moving the site, particularly because officials believe the development company will follow through on its plan to build an elementary school there. The district intends to wait until more of the proposed homes are built in the area before building the school. To pay for construction, the district would likely need voters to approve issuing bonds.

“Those schools are better in a residential area,” said Karen Strakbein, the school district’s assistant superintendent of business services. “High schools are better to have near a roadway.”

Government oversight

The new school site also would be larger ” 9 acres compared with 7.3 acres ” and easier to develop because the land is flatter, Strakbein said.

Superintendent John Brendza sent a letter to the Forest Service supporting the relocation.

Conversations with Denver school officials also convinced Traer Creek to move the school away from a freeway interchange because it is unsafe, said Dave Kautz, senior vice president for the development company.

“I’m a parent,” Kautz said. “I wouldn’t want my kids to go to an elementary school next to an interchange.”

Kautz said there haven’t been any changes to the Village at Avon’s proposed development plan. Last year the developer did ask the Avon Town Council to approve a batch of changes, including moving the school site, adding more homes and more commercial space on the north side of I-70. The request was unanimously denied.

“Any perception that there have been changes is inaccurate,” Avon Town Councilman Pete Buckley said, noting that the council is closely monitoring the development.

Traer Creek plans to install water, sewer and electric lines to the school and to add onto the county’s paved recreation path that aims to connect the county’s east and west ends. There is currently a break in the path between Eagle-Vail an Dowd Junction.

ECO Trails, the organization that is building the countywide trail system, would save about $1.5 million in their budget if Traer Creek pays to extend the trail through Forest Service lands, Kautz said.

Public funds for the trail system are limited and Traer Creek’s proposal would enable that portion of the trail to be finished sooner, said Ellie Caryl, ECO Trails planner.

Public benefits

Only the road, the trail and utility lines will be built on the forest lands site. The Forest Service will still own the land.

Traer Creek could build an access road around the Forest Service parcel, but it would result in a steeper, windier road. The school district also said it will only agree to move the school if the Forest Service allows a road through its land.

“We’re obligated to provide access sometimes but in this case they have alternate access points,” said Howard Kahlow, a Forest Service lands specialist. “We’re not obligated to approve this, but there would appear to be some public benefit.”

If the Forest Service approves the plan, Traer Creek will likely put more single family homes and commercial buildings near the interchange. But any changes to the development plan require the Avon Town Council’s approval, Kautz said.

Ferraro believes profit is one of the reasons why Traer Creek is essentially switching the school. She said commercial space would be more visible near the interchange. And it may be easier to get Forest Service approval for the road if it will be used for a school, rather than a commercial project, Ferraro added.

The Forest Service parcel at one time could have been a haven for migrating animals, but the area near it has become too heavily developed, Kahlow said.

Forest Service officials believe that building a road and bike trail through that parcel will actually increase the value of the site.

Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at: tmiller@vaildaily.com or by calling 949-0555 ext. 607.

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