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Eagle needs vision

Jan Rosenthal-Townsend

Over the past six months there has been much said, and even more omitted, by the Eagle Town Board about the need for approving the Red Mountain Ranch project. Red Mountain is comprised of 450,000 square feet of big box retail, along with 300-plus homes. The latest comments from Mayor Stavney show the disconnect in thought processes between the Town Board (many of whom ran on platforms opposing the development) and the people who voted them into office. The board’s own appointed Planning Commission unanimously recommended denial of the application and a vast majority of citizens have continuously voiced their opposition to the project. Yet, the elected officials have plodded on in what appears to be an effort to promote a calculated argument for approval, often acting on behalf of the applicant to do so.Mr. Mayor, we feel it is time to set the record straight on a few items that you have decided to bring to the greater community’s attention (and some of which you have failed to mention) in an effort to justify your case for this project’s approval.First, there is the $23 million price tag of general capital improvements for Eagle over the next decade that is causing the perception of an economic “crisis” – one that the big box development would supposedly remedy. We believe this is an inaccurate projection and one that has been constructed in a way that would justify approving the Red Mountain project. When asked last November whether the town had any accurate estimates as to the number and price of general infrastructure projects on deck for the town of Eagle, the town manager stated on the record, “We do not have a capital improvements plan. We just know that certain public impacts will require a large amount of funding, like mass transit and water treatment.” Yet, very quickly, and without the benefit of an updated master plan, we now have $23 million in significant projects like $9 million for Highway 6 improvements, $5 million for the I-70 collector (Eby Creek Road), and $2 million for a Bull Pasture bypass. The town has presented these items and costs, though without proper research or supporting documentation, to Red Mountain’s economic consultant, who in turn created sales tax revenue numbers to show how the big box might pay for these improvements. Notably, the risks, direct or indirect costs, effects on short/long term budget and expenses to the town of Eagle as a result of this massive project, were not adequately addressed in the economic impact study presented by the developer.Let’s slow down, back up, and do the thinking about these improvements. How do they fit into our master plan for growth? Where is our updated master plan? In their recommendation for denial of the Red Mountain Ranch annexation, the Planning and Zoning Commission cited the need for a new master plan before even considering this project. Yet that recommendation has been summarily dismissed and now this project is being considered without the vision and guidance an updated master plan would provide. Mr. Mayor, we believe that the Town Board’s approach to this project has the tail wagging the dog. This wish list of infrastructure improvements creates a “financial crisis” that you want to solve by giving Red Mountain Ranch a green light to build its massive development. One month ago, you and several of the trustees confirmed that “town revenues are doing fine.” And: “We will be fine without the approval of this project.”Furthermore, if a real crisis were to exist, why would you even consider the developer’s proposal that half of the sales revenue generated by the big box development be refunded back to him for his “public improvements”? These are the very same improvements that wouldn’t be necessary if there were no development of this size and scope! We simply can not agree with the logic that supports this rebate. This is convoluted thinking. Eagle would get “half the tax and all the impact” – a rotten deal no matter how you dress it. Furthermore, why rush this annexation? The board has the power to slow down development in order for our budget to catch up with the enormous growth that has been approved over the past decade. We currently have a $5 million renovation plan being implemented for downtown Eagle. Those businesses have waited 25-plus years for these needed improvements. Annexing Red Mountain Ranch, as currently proposed, is a sure way to ensure Broadway’s demise. Shouldn’t we concentrate on what we already have and make sure it prospers (thus retaining/creating sales tax revenues) before moving onto new ventures? Also, we the business community take exception to your statement about no one spending $100-plus at downtown stores. Maybe you don’t, but many people do. And we thank them immensely.More importantly, why is there so little consideration being given to the alternative of putting a regional shopping/big box development at the Airport Gateway commercial park? It is a 257-acre area, already zoned for regional commercial between Eagle and Gypsum. It sits under the runway of the second-largest airport in the state and adjacent to a proposed I-70 full diamond interchange. Yet, when approached by the town of Gypsum to enter into an intergovernmental agreement to revenue-share sales tax dollars from such a development, the Eagle Town Board has continuously dragged its feet. We believe this is a win-win proposition with Gypsum. We will share the massive impacts and share the revenue generated. Both communities will be somewhat protected. The beautiful gateway to Eagle will be preserved for us and for our numerous visitors. Why is this offer not being pursued with vigor?Lastly, Mr. Mayor, we believe the Red Mountain Ranch big box proposal and its monumental impacts should not be minimized as a mere “change of scenery,” as you suggest. We feel this project would negate all that makes Eagle a unique mountain town. Special communities like ours do not endure because we simply think we can. It takes hard work, forward thinking, the creation of better-paying jobs, local industry and continuous support, dedication and reinvestment into the community. It’s been proven that dollars spent at big box retailers go out of the community, and that the jobs created by these developments only add pressure to the entire fabric of the community. We have a better vision for our children’s future. When we elected you, we trusted that you did, too. Finally, our group of concerned business owners and citizens from throughout the valley is growing daily and we will not be disregarded by those who we helped put in public office. We ask you again to listen, really listen, to the hundreds of constituents who have publicly expressed their heartfelt, passionate and articulate objections to Red Mountain Ranch and then act accordingly.Jan Rosenthal-Townsend wrote this column together with other members of Citizens for the Future of Eagle, a community group that describes itself as concerned with the preservation of Eagle’s town character and economic, social and cultural vitality.Vail, Colorado


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