Eagle land deal could kick off redevelopment | VailDaily.com

Eagle land deal could kick off redevelopment

Kathy Heicher
Eagle, CO Colorado

EAGLE, Colorado ” The U.S. Forest Service and Eagle County are within 120 days of closing a land deal that could mean some significant changes in Eagle, Colorado.

The chess-game-like deal involves the sale of a land-locked Forest Service horse pasture in west end of town to the county. The county is prepared to pay $1.25 million for the 5-acre parcel, which, together with the adjacent old county road and bridge site, would likely be developed for workforce housing.

The pasture purchase is the first step in a land acquisition process that could eventually involve purchase or trade of numerous properties in Eagle, kick-starting infill development projects in town.

But before the federal agency closes on that pasture property deal, the Forest Service is seeking assurance from the county that it can consolidate and relocate its facilities. The Forest Service says it prefers to relocate its local operation (including administrative offices, a pasture for summer boarding of horses, and fire-cache facilities) to a 10-acre former gravel pit site at the Eagle County Fairgrounds.

That request is forcing the county commissioners to make a decision about committing a chunk of fairgrounds property for another use. But the county commissioners aren’t all that sure about how they want that property to be used. Approving one use could exclude another.

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“The challenge is there are a lot of balls in the air on the fairgrounds. I think the county commissioners are a little reluctant to pin down where this should go,” said newly elected commissioner Jon Stavney.

“This is a priority for me,” said Stavney, a former Eagle mayor. “My concern is that the time is as ripe as it has ever been right now. … We really need to seize this opportunity and make a decision.”

Fellow commissioner Peter Runyon said the Forest Service property at Dowd Junction near Minturn is a logical place for a visitor center. However, he added that he is “absolutely willing to consider” a fairgrounds site for the Forest operation.

“We obviously want to work in close support with the Forest Service. For the most part, our goals are pretty much aligned,” he said.

The county and Forest Service have been negotiating the land deal for the past 18 months; but the federal agency’s need for a different property has been building for a long time.

In 2003, the Forest Service consolidated its Holy Cross office (located in Minturn), and its Eagle office into a single administrative district. Subsequently, the local forest operation has been split between the two locations. The facilities at both locations are old, short on space, and face significant maintenance issues. The buildings lack operational and energy efficiency. Employee housing is an issue, particularly at the up-valley location.

Forest Service officials see a need for a facility that better meets current needs for the district, which includes administrative offices, light industrial-type operations and a pasture.

The agency prepared an analysis that identified six options, ranging from constructing new facilities on Forest Service land within Eagle, or construction new facilities at Wolcott or Dowd Junction (near Minturn). The preferred alternative, when weighed against the agency’s criteria, was to acquire 10 acres at the Eagle County Fairgrounds.

Randy Parker, conveyance project manager for the White River National Forest, notes that an Eagle location is more central to the Forest Service operations.

“Our current direction is to stay in Eagle. … What that looks like, we’re continuing to talk about,” says Parker, noting that a site immediately east of the town may also be an option. The agency’s second choice would be to redevelop the Dowd Junction site, and essentially leave only a visitor center in Eagle. Parker stressed that the Forest Service has made no final decision on closing or selling the Holy Cross office.

In a recent work session, town of Eagle leaders made it clear they want the agency in the western end of the valley. Town Manager Willy Powell noted that for many years, the town board has lobbied to keep a Forest Service presence in town.

“We need to come out strongly in favor of the U.S. Forest Service staying in Eagle,” said town board member Yuri Kostick.

“I think we need to do what we can to make sure Eagle remains a government center,” said Eagle Mayor Ed Woodland.

The county, which has identified workforce housing as a top priority, is particularly interested in the Forest Service property because it is adjacent to the old county road and bridge site. Combined, the two parcels are big enough for a significant housing development. At the same time, the Forest Service is looking for employee housing, which makes some sort of land deal all that more attractive.

County Housing Director Alex Potente noted that any development on the county and Forest Service parcels would require a town annexation and approval process.

“We don’t have any definitive plans for that parcel yet. We are reviewing alternatives,” he said.

If the Eagle deal can be worked out, Parker said the agency’s other properties in town, including the office and ranger house on Fifth Street, an employee house at 624 Washington, and the remaining three acres of horse pasture would probably be negotiated in a separate deal.

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