Eagle needs revenue
In the town of Eagle, amid rapid growth (15 percent last year) town character has proven resilient. The Red Mountain Ranch project proposes regional shopping, which means “big boxes,” a concept dissonant with our image of a Norman Rockwell town. Given a lot of heart-felt testimony during the hearings, I’d like to provide some background as to why the trustees of Eagle are still at the table, discussing this proposal. First, some background on town. To have room to expand, the post office moved from Broadway to Chambers Avenue in 1985. In 1992, Interstate 70 was completed through Glenwood Canyon, drawing traffic off of Highway 6. In 1997, City Market opened. Soon thereafter, a local family-owned grocery store closed. In 1997, the prominent I-70-oriented restaurant was Jackie’s Old West. There were no national fast-food restaurants in Eagle then. Now we have five. Since that time, many locally-owned restaurants have opened and many have closed. It is not easy for small restaurants or retail in Eagle. Change has been rapid and constant.When I ran for the Town Board in 1998, there was nary a stoplight or round-a-bout in town. Since then, traffic volumes have kept pace with 10 years of 7-10 percent growth rates, which has been a good thing for new retail, like the toy store, bike shop, bowling alley, theater and others. Growth allowed the town to invest in a recreation center and a new town hall. The driving force behind this has been a greater critical mass of people and money. Today, with a population approaching 5,000, child-car seats far outnumber flatbed trucks with hay bales and ranch dogs. No longer home to cows driven through town to summer pasture on Castle Peak, Eagle Ranch will soon have 1,200 homes on it. How has all this change affected how residents feel about their town? Last summer, in the 2004 Community Survey, 70 percent of respondents noted “sense of community” as “strong,” which was higher than any other Colorado town ever surveyed by CML. Remarkably, 40 percent of Eagle residents have lived in town less than five years. Most said they live here because of the “quality of life.” And why not? Eagle is the premier mountain town for middle-class working families in Colorado. People choose to be here, and strive to stay here in spite of rising costs of living. So character of some sort is alive and well today in Eagle. That is a credit to newcomers and old-timers alike. But like it or not, Eagle is far from done growing. Approvals in place right now for residential development project a population of 8,000 residents. Eagle Ranch will be sold out in three years! Six-hundred-sixty acres of Brush Creek land is being eyed by a residential developer. Traffic has not even begun to be an issue. It will be. Town staff provided an estimate of traffic related capitol projects projected in the next 10 years. The cumulative price tag, $23 million. We are beginning to understand that residential growth does not pay its own way and that sales tax generation has not kept pace with upcoming expenditures and expectations.The Broadway streetscape project, which will span the next three summers, will cost taxpayers between $3.5 million and $5 million. Already, there is a call for these streetscape improvements to extend throughout the central business district. I hear regularly that people would like to expand the recreation facility and improve pedestrian connections throughout town. These are all strategic priorities. How are these funded? Good question.The reality in Colorado, especially with TABOR, is that municipalities are overwhelmingly depended on local sales tax dollars. For reference, last year’s sales tax revenue in Eagle was less than $2.5 million. Property tax income was less than $250,000, which brings me to why the Eagle Town Board is considering Red Mountain Ranch. The reality is that most of us do not shop in town, and few people from outside of town come to Eagle to shop. Seven million dollars of off-site infrastructure improvements included in the proposal will eventually be required whether or not Red Mountain Ranch is approved. The same is true of the $23 million of traffic related projects I just mentioned. Respectfully, for most who have spoken at the hearings, the question facing the Eagle Town Board is not resolved by crunching numbers. It is a much more basic question. Can the vision many have of Eagle as a smalltown reconcile with big boxes? Eagle is not a town of rich people. Fifty percent of the households in Eagle are working families with children under the age of 18. From one point of view, it comes down to the question of regional shopping – an unassailable fact of our modern culture. It is easy to get very snobby about “big boxes.” But ask this: Where do most town residents spend their money today? Answer: 62 percent of Eagle residents travel monthly to shop at big boxes in Denver, and an even greater percentage shop regularly at national retailers in nearby towns. Thousands of dollars of sales tax dollars spent in those places do not address town needs. That leakage does nothing to contribute to a sense of community, or provide for amenities. At a recent meeting, I challenged residents to remember the last time they spent $100 at a business in the town of Eagle other than at a restaurant or City Market? How many weeks last year did the average resident spend $100 at shops on Broadway? Hard-earned money spent at Wal-Mart, Sam’s, Target or Costco in Denver, Glenwood Springs or Summit County does nothing for the Eagle community. It does nothing to improve the quality of life in Eagle. For the most part, the same can be said for tax dollars spent elsewhere in Eagle County. Understandably, many gravitate to Eagle because it does not have this kind of development. It reminds many of us of places we left behind. Many have said they are happy to drive to shop, and they do.With “sense of community ratings so high,” I ask, are the blighted, abandoned properties along Highway 6 what give Eagle residents a sense of place today? Is it the less than unique development clustered around the I-70 interchange? Take a step back and look at the larger setting. I am confident that what is special about Eagle is much stronger than the change of scenery that some big boxes along I-70 could bring. That change could be offset with some notable sales tax income and the ability to fund desired capital projects.I want to be clear that I have not made up my mind on this project, nor have the town trustees. Many of us are wrestling with the looming cost of upcoming projects. We continually weigh the character issue against the scope and detail of this project. We share the concerns of so many residents who have spoken at the hearings. Eagle is a very special place.One thing to keep in mind: I for one am confident that with or without Red Mountain Ranch, smalltown charm will evolve and endure in Eagle. It already has.Jon Stavney is the mayor of Eagle.Vail, Colorado
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The U.S. Forest Service on Thursday delivered a setback to opponents of a proposed luxury development near Edwards by approving the paving of Berry Creek Road to the 680-acre Berlaimont Estates’ private inholding.