Developers want building built in downtown Eagle
EAGLE – It’s long been a central question for Eagle, but with the national recession of the past two years, it has been a while since anyone asked it.
How, or does, growth pay for its way?
Tuesday night, members of the Eagle Town Board found themselves facing that familiar query as they considered a development permit for a new downtown building, as well as financing options for a new water-treatment plant in town.
Developers Joe Frasco and Les Samelson presented plans for a 12,000-square-foot, mixed-use building at the corner of Wall Street and Third Avenue. The building would feature commercial uses on the street level and residential or office uses on the second floor. Frasco pointed to two other buildings he has developed downtown – one at 404 Broadway that houses a dentist office, construction office and hair salon and one at 330 Broadway that houses a clothing store, coffee shop, hair salon and assorted offices – saying the new project will resemble those buildings.
But a stumbling block for the new building is the aging water lines on Wall Street. The current lines are insufficient even for current use and cannot support the larger building. Town Engineer Tom Gosiorowski said the lines are scheduled for replacement, but the project is one of many the town’s limited capital improvements fund has to tackle.
“As the town, we have the obligation at some point to upgrade that water line. This project has been on a long list of old water lines in the downtown that need to be replaced,” he said.
Gosiorowski presented two alternatives for the project. A $420,000 fix that would replace the lines extending from Fourth Street to Second Street. He said a fix that would address the entire water-line issue around Wall Street would cost around $800,000.
Frasco argued that the town needs to step up and fix the lines and the road.
“You got 60 years out of that street. It needs to be replaced,” he said. “Now is the perfect time to do it.”
Frasco said his project is important because Eagle desperately needs some construction jobs right now. He estimated 32 people could be employed working to construct his building and another 30-plus would be employed in businesses that would open in it.
“I am in favor of the project; the issue is the water line,” Town Board member Kraige Kinney said.
“I support the project, too; it’s just about who pays for the water,” Town Board member Scott Turnipseed said. “This isn’t the only proposal in the downtown or west Eagle area that is going to get redeveloped.”
The town is looking at a large-scale development plan for west Eagle, and aging infrastructure in that area is a cost concern at a time when Eagle needs to be saving money. At the end of 2011, the town estimates there will be in excess of $5 million in its water fund. Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell said that the Wall Street water line could be financed through a combination of capital funds, street-improvement funds and water funds. But the town’s future needs have its leaders feeling squeamish about dipping into the water money.
For a number of years, Eagle has been contemplating construction of a second water-treatment plant. The new facility would likely cost in excess of $12 million and would be located upriver from the town’s current wastewater-treatment plant.
What will trigger plant construction? Actual construction of one new project in town and in the coming months, development proposals are expected from two large projects – Eagle River Station and the Haymeadow.
To finance the plant, the town is looking at a combination of existing revenues in the water fund, new debt and increased water-tap fees and monthly water rates. The trick is finding the balance between all of these options. But as they consider either increasing water-tap fees or monthly water service rates, the Town Board members said there is no guarantee that either of the projects that are proposed will eventually materialize. However, town staff said that even if those projects go away, the issue of plant construction doesn’t. The town would delay the project but would still have to build it, they said.
“You guys need to make a decision about a lower-basin treatment plant based on the information you have today,” Gosiorowski said. “Regardless of what happens with these projects, Eagle will need a second water-treatment plant in the future. It’s a question of when.”
For the Town Board members, it is also a question of when to increase fees. Member Scot Webster advocated for increasing monthly service rates, saying that the charges are nominal because they are spread out over a larger group rather than looking at a large increase in water-tap fees.
Gosiorowski said that was one school of thought, but the counter argument is that current town residents end up carrying a larger load for future growth. He also noted that in the larger picture, when a big project comes to town, tap fees aren’t what make or break financing.
Powell said the challenge is to find the right mix of financing to balance revenues and burdens. But, he added, it is time for the Town Board to act.
“We are nearing the end of capacity at our water plant. We are at 80 percent now and beyond that you really start stressing the system,” said Powell.
Noting the late hour and the magnitude of the decision, Town Board members tabled action on both the Wall Street water line and the water rates issue. Both items will be back for discussion at the next Town Board meeting April 26.