Box stores are the wrong choice for Eagle
No mater how well-meaning, some developments just don’t work. The proposed Red Mountain Ranch in Eagle is not all that bad, it’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time.The open pasturelands east of Eagle toward Red Canyon could become the site of future commercial development, including possibly a “big box” store, residential-agricultural lands, homes and open space along the Eagle River. This development would fill the valley from Eagle to Red Canyon, three miles east.The proposed commercial district stretches from the end of Chambers Road out to the Van Campen place. This represents a considerable addition to the current commercial area east of the Post Office, between I-70 and Hwy 6. It also begs the question, do we really need it? There is a glut of unoccupied commercial property, from the Airport Gateway to Eagle Ranch and out on Chambers Road. All of these places have roads and infrastructure built and in place, ready to go.The Eagle Area Community Plan projects this area for future commercial development, and the emphasis needs to be on “future.”Are sales tax revenues and projections a worry? From the current Town budget and projections for the future you wouldn’t think so. There are still a lot of large undeveloped lots on Chambers Road and the “town core” of Eagle Ranch. Shouldn’t we see if these already approved commercial centers can make it before we start building the “future” reserves? Remember, no mater how much commercial space is approved, there is no revenue for anybody when it sits empty.I don’t even want to think about the traffic. No interchange with I-70 is proposed, and only a single connection to Hwy 6. Chambers Road is already a headache at certain times of the day. This development could spread the misery throughout the day.Red Mountain Ranch purports to protect the agricultural “entry” along I-70 into Eagle by providing some open space and low density residential, along with a couple “farm” residences. The strip along the Eagle River will include a couple residential developments and a good bit of open space, preserving public access. All of this is well and good, but PUD Guides are notoriously easy to amend when the time, and profit motive, is right.For example, the PUD guide for Beaver Creek is amended as land becomes more valuable and the money that could be made grows more “urgent.” The Beaver Creek Metro District’s maintenance facility has even been “amended” right out of Beaver Creek. Now, rather than taking space in Beaver Creek, where the work is, they are moving some miles away to the industrial park area of Eagle-Vail. Not quite as handy for Beaver Creek snowplowing, but hey, no one’s going to build a “Ritz-Carlton” next to Nick’s Quick Lube.PUD’s are full of good intentions. So is the paving of certain roads. PUD promises are no guarantee for the future.The whole character of Eagle would suffer as well. The Town is planning to spend a bundle on “revitalizing” downtown. Yet big box store development and the commercial operations they attract are famous for destroying the small town hearts of America.The Denver Post just ran an article about a number of Front Range towns planning to build, or re-build, their town centers. They have experienced the joy of huge box stores and malls, and they have had enough. Box stores and malls never brought real community to the towns. When they close down and move on, they leave a hole in the community soul that is hard to fix. Now cities like Lakewood, Castle Rock and Longmont are trying to recapture their community in a revitalized downtown. Even Aurora and Commerce City are trying to create a bit of something they never really had. All of these towns are trying to achieve a sense of place, a sense of community and character that strip malls and big box stores can never generate.Carbondale provides a good example for Eagle. The people of Carbondale rejected a proposed Target complex despite dire predictions of financial ruin. In fact just the opposite seems to have happened. Carbondale now has a vibrant and growing downtown. There are a multitude of shops and offices, new buildings and two of the best restaurants in Colorado all right on Main Street.Eagle should focus on its unique character, its downtown, its history and its future as a real town. Build and strengthen the “heart” before sprawling out further along the edges. Eagle has a sense of place and community character built over more than a century. That’s something rare and increasingly fragile in the resort world of Colorado. It’s something that we need to encourage and nourish, not threaten. It’s also something that, once lost, we may never recover.Many towns in America have done what the Town of Eagle is considering, and now they regret it. Let’s not make the same mistake. VTKen Neubecker writes about water and the environment for the Vail Trail. He can be reached for comment at eagleriver@ eagleranch.com.