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Eagle asked what ‘small town’ means

EAGLE ” Back in 1996, when the original Eagle Area Community Plan was drafted, “small town character” was identified as one of the defining characteristics of Eagle.

As the plan update proceeds, those same words are often repeated as old and new residents alike vocalize what they appreciate about the community where they live.

But what does that mean?



Back in 1996, Eagle was a small town with a population of roughly 2,600 people. Today, that number has more than doubled as the latest estimates figure an Eagle population of nearly 6,100. Today’s numbers still reflect a small community, but that pace of growth has left its mark.

“The plan update is still focused on small-town character,” said Eagle Town Planner Bill Gray. “The question is, what kind of things can we do so we can handle the pace of growth?”



Gray recently plotted a graph showing population growth in the town from its founding until the present. That graph illustrates the explosive growth of the 1990s.

Gray pointed out several challenges, such as crowded roadways and keeping wastewater and water treatment facilities up to snuff, are tied to rapid growth. But as the community plan update proceeds, Gray said people are equally concerned about quality-of-life issues, such as open lands and wildlife.

“The elk are the most popular residents in town at this time,” he said.



The town faces the challenge of turning statements of what people value into land-use regulations that uphold those values.

One aspect of the plan update is a resource map. That project will call out open lands that are a priority for the town to conserve, as well as mapping public lands, river corridors, steep slopes and wildlife habitat.

The Master Plan Committee is also working at identifying the elements of a small town so this goal can be incorporated into Eagle’s land-use planning codes, Gray said.

The resulting list reveals the challenge, because while some of the elements are easy to envision as part of a municipal land-use document, others are much more difficult to pin down:

– Compactness and tighter form.

– Medium density (somewhere in between that of cities and suburbs).

– A downtown with street-edge buildings, mixed uses, gathering places, public buildings, parks and other open spaces.

– Commercial development that meets everyday needs.

– Residential neighborhoods close to the town center, sometimes with house lots abutting commercial premises.

– Civic open space within and rural open spaces at edges.

– Pedestrian friendly, but also auto accessible.

– Streets scaled for typical uses.

– A sense of community.

– Opportunities for casual socializing.

– Open space within and around.

– Compact form and incremental growth.

“The social network of Eagle plays a big role for people. I think the people in the community have to take on some of these things versus the code book,” Gray said. “There needs to be new community members who step up and take on an active role in the town.”

While the 1996 plan identified “growth boundaries” for Eagle, it didn’t set hard and fast rules to enforce limitations. “We want to put some teeth to the growth boundaries,” Gray said.

The next public meeting for the Eagle Area Community Plan is tentatively planned for August, with public hearings anticipated in late September or early October.

Information regarding the Eagle Area Community Plan is available at the town’s Web site ” http://www.townofeagle.org

This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.


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