Eagle rejects big shopping center

Kathy Heicher

EAGLE – Eagle is one growing mountain town that has said no to a big box store. One month after endorsing the Red Mountain Ranch shopping center, the Eagle Town Board Tuesday night reversed its decision.After five hours of discussion, the Board voted 5-2 not to annex the land on which longtime local developer Merv Lapin wanted to build his Red Mountain Ranch shopping center. But that doesn’t mean the land, which is now a cow pasture in unincorporated Eagle County, will remain undeveloped, as some opponents of the project hope.Despite turning Lapin down, several town board members said they expect something will be built eventually on the land between Interstate 70 and Highway 6.”This piece is a commercial piece,” Town Board Member Ed Woodland said. “The deal is not right.”Board members Tuesday night said they were frustrated because Lapin’s proposal had changed. The board’s earlier approval of the 442-acre project came with stringent conditions that Lapin said would make it difficult to attract a major retailer. Lapin then made a counter-proposal, and he had been negotiating for the past four weeks with Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell.Add to the mix persistent rumors that the big-box retailer expected at Red Mountain Ranch, Costco, is being courted by the town of Gypsum – or, has already decided to open a store there. “If Costco goes to Gypsum, others will follow,” Lapin said, urging the board to shape conditions that would give him some leeway in negotiating with national retailers. Lapin receives telephone inquiries every week from national retailers interested in coming to the area, and, most recently, he said, he has received inquiries from the Ruby Tuesday and Chili’s restaurant chains.He also made an offer to Cabelas, an outdoor clothing and equipment retailer, while continuing negotiations with Costco, he said. Lapin said he’s considering splitting the land, which includes 149 acres along the Eagle River that the town wants for open space, into 35-acre parcels. He has repeatedly warned he would sell the land off in smaller pieces if his project isn’t approved.Powell warned the council that 35-acre parcels often end up split into smaller parcels, calling such a division of land a “terrible idea.””I’m fearful of the unintended consequences of a denial,” he said. Several Eagle board members Tuesday night said Gypsum has offered Costco a $5-million incentive package, and an audience member, after receiving a cell phone call from an unnamed source, claimed she had just learned that Costco had signed a deal to go to Gypsum. But Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll has consistently denied that claim.”We’ve contacted (Costco), we’ve had some discussions with them, but we don’t have anything,” he said. “We’ve certainly never talked dollars, money, or details.”A $5-million incentive package would have to be decided at a public meeting of Gypsum’s town council, he said.Red Mountain Ranch planner Tom Braun urged the board to delay a decision on the project for a month, saying Lapin and the town were very close to an agreement on all but a few issues.”A number of things in the conditions of approval really don’t work for the partnership,” Braun said. “There is a reality in terms of what works for you, and what works for Merv.”Several board members said they didn’t like parts of Lapin’s counter-proposal, including 100 units of housing in the commercial area, and a proposal for the town cover more of the costs of installing utility lines and other infrastructure. “We negotiated the conditions of approval, and now we are in a completely different place,” Mayor Jon Stavney said.Stavney, Mike Kerst, Stephen Richards, Ed Woodland and Jay Bryant voted against the project. Kraige Kinney and Paul Witt cast dissenting votes.The denial also cancels a plan for residents to vote on the shopping center.This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.Vail, Colorado

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