Eagle River Station: What is taking so long?
EAGLE, Colorado –Last fall, Eagle Mayor Ed Woodland publicly stated his desire to have the Eagle River Station review process completed by Christmas.
These days he adds a caveat – he didn’t specify Christmas of what year.
The town of Eagle’s review process for Eagle River Station has stretched over nearly three years now. According to town staff, the end is in sight, with a town board vote expected by late September or early October.
But what has taken so long?
“Growth never comes easily in Eagle because both the town government and the citizens want to make sure growth that is approved will be a long-term benefit to the town,” said Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell. “People value where they live. We want projects to be well planned and well executed.”
With that said, Powell said the town and developer Trinity/RED Eagle are now in the thick of negotiations for the development approval agreement. This document goes into exacting detail and provides the framework for long-term development. Additionally, the town is now on the cusp of granting vested rights for the project – meaning the developer gets legal approval to proceed and starts a three-year clock to begin construction.
It isn’t the first time that Eagle has spent years considering a development proposal. Back in the mid to late 1990s, the Eagle Ranch proposal took nearly three years to complete. And, according to one of the principals involved in that negotiation, that’s just the way things work.
“Typically, projects of that size take two or so years to get approval anywhere in the United States,” said Jen Wright, of Wright and Company, one of Eagle Ranch developers.
Wright believes that Eagle River Station’s commercial package makes it a more difficult project to both plan and finance. And in addition to dealing with a complicated development scenario, Wright notes that the national economic meltdown has added increase difficulties.
“I think that they (Trinity/RED Eagle) are reputable developers, but the things that worked two years ago don’t work now,” said Wright. “The fundaments of development are being rewritten.”
Mike Hans, of RED Development, the Kansas City, Mo. firm that is one of the principal developers for Eagle River Station, has repeatedly disputed charges that Trinity/RED Eagle is dragging its feet.
“We would much prefer to have this process completed as soon as possible,” said Hans. “The longer this takes, the more money this costs us.”
Trinity/RED Eagle has already shelled out considerable cash for the proposed Eagle River Station project. In 2008, the company purchased the 99-acre tract from former owner Merv Lapin for $19 million.
Like Powell, Hans pointed to the “extremely complex” nature of the development agreement as the main hold-up in current proceedings.
Hans said if the town board approves the Eagle River Station application, Trinity/RED has vested rights and a three-year time frame to either proceed with construction or ask for an extension. With that built in flexibility, Hans said Trinity/RED has plenty of time to wait for an economic recovery.
“We are not interested in delaying anything. There’s just absolutely no reason for us to delay this,” he said.
Opponents of Eagle River Station don’t buy it. “I think, at this point, the developers are frankly dragging their feet,” said Liz Spetnagel of Eagle.
Spetnagel has been among the faithful cadre of citizens who routinely attend the Eagle River Station public hearings. She is an outspoken critic of the plan, and she believes the long approval process is another reason to oppose Eagle River Station.
“The downside of allowing this process to go on is it precludes the possibility of a more appropriate development occurring,” she said.
“I know that land is going to get developed and that we need more commercial development in town. But that’s just not the right project,” said Spetnagel.
As someone who has spent hours and hours at public hearings following the Eagle River Station project, Spetnagel is ready for the town to make a decision.
But even a final town board vote won’t likely be the final word in the Eagle River Station saga.
The ultimate fate of the Eagle River Station project will most likely be decided by the citizens of Eagle. If the town board votes to approve the plan, chances are one of the conditions will include a town election to ratify the decision.
That’s the route the town board took back in the 1990s when considering the location for a new town hall. Two sites were available – the downtown location where the new town hall was eventually built or a site out at Eagle Ranch.
“The town called for the election and it was the cleanest and easiest way to do it,” said Roxie Deane, former Eagle mayor and current town board member.
Like many people around town, Deane believes it’s time to complete the town review of Eagle River Station so that the proposal can go to the voters. It’s been a long haul, she notes, but it hasn’t been unprecedented.
Deane remembers how the Eagle Ranch development review dragged. “I can’t remember how long it took, but it seemed like it took forever.”
As she compares the two developments, Deane believes that Eagle Ranch was more complicated, but less controversial, than Eagle River Station.
“Eagle Ranch was 1,200 acres versus 88 acres with a commercial area and different types of residential development and a municipal golf course and so many public amenities for the town,” she said. “With Eagle Ranch, it became exhausting. But I’m glad we spent the extra time. I believe we have something that people generally think is a good development.”