End of an era
Eagle keeps changing. For the past eight years, though, the core of the Eagle Town Board has been a constant. Change will hit that board in a big way this spring.
Since 1996, Mayor Roxie Deane and trustees Tom Ehrenberg, Paul Gregg and Bruce Hasbrouck Ð a majority of the seven-member board Ð have been at the helm during a period of significant change. This year, all four are leaving office due to term limits. The departing politicians recently sat down to talk about how the town has changed, for better and worse, over the past few years.
When Tom Ehrenberg moved to Eagle in the 1970s, kids could wander a little way up Brush Creek and bottle-feed the new calves at Eagle Ranch. There aren’t many calves around town these days, but kids can bike to the town’s new swimming pool in the summer and skate indoors in the winter.
“This town has changed,” Ehrenberg said
Despite the changes, Ehrenberg said he still wouldn’t want to live anywhere else – a situation he views as a major accomplishment of the board over the past several years.
Quality of life issues drove Ehrenberg to seek a spot on the Eagle Planning and Zoning Commission in 1992, he said. After a four-year term on that board, the same issues prompted him to run for a seat on the town board.
“It just looked like the quality of life here was starting to be threatened, and if some of us didn’t get involved, we could lose what makes this place special,” he said.
In the minds of Ehrenberg and his colleagues on the board, much of that threat came from the development plans for property south of Eagle owned by Adam’s Rib developer Fred Kummer.
“It was the threat of poorly-planned development, poorly done,” said Ehrenberg.
The battles over the future of the Brush Creek Valley occupied hundreds of hours of town board and staff time, and eventually resulted in Kummer filing suit to force the town to provide water service to his project at Frost Creek, about seven miles up Brush Creek from town.
The town eventually settled that suit by agreeing to provide water service to 60 units at Frost Creek, as well as another 135 units in a yet-to-be-submitted subdivision a bit downstream from the Frost Creek parcel.
Ehrenberg and Gregg cast votes against the settlement, and both say they’d cast the same votes again today.
“It’s still spot zoning, and it still goes against the master plan,” said Ehrenberg. “But it’s better than nothing, I suppose.”
While Kummer has yet to build anything near Eagle, the town’s residential growth has continued at a brisk pace, accompanied by a long list of concerns. Ehrenberg pointed with pride to steps the board has taken to keep up with that growth. He cites the board’s action requiring developers to pay impact fees to help pay for street and utility improvements.
“That’s made a huge difference in our ability to deal with growth,” said Ehrenberg.
While it’s the big picture items that get most of the attention, Ehrenberg pays keen attention to little things around town, particularly weeds and other public nuisances.
“Tom has always been the noxious weed and rodent guy,” said Pam Holmes Boyd, who served four years with the current core group from 1998 to 2002. “That’s been his niche on the board.”
Jon Stavney, who has served for the past six years on the board with Ehrenberg, added, “Eagle has never had a better advocate for the little guy than Tom. He’s got his fists up in the air saying, ‘Don’t push me around.'”
Ehrenberg said he hopes whoever replaces him on the board will continue to stand up for residents. The town this year will begin negotiating a plan for the Red Mountain Ranch commercial/residential project, a deal that will probably include some form of sales tax rebate to the developer in order to pay for impacts the big subdivision creates. Always wary of developers coming to the town with their hands out, Ehrenberg said his advice to future board members is simple: “Don’t give away the farm.”
Like Ehrenberg, Gregg has been vocal in his demand that development pay its own way. Looking back at his time in office, Gregg said the town has established a set of firm rules that can hold developers accountable for the impacts they create. “That’s been one of the great successes of this board,” Gregg said.
Another of the great successes has more to do with personality than policy, he added.
“This group has a sense of humor and knows how to get things done,” he said. While board members don’t always agree, he said, “Nobody’s vindictive, and nobody’s out to sandbag anyone else.”
A decision last year about the density of “Tract O” at Eagle Ranch is an example of that, said Gregg. The decision split the board when it came time to vote. After the vote, though, “Nobody has any lingering animosity,” said Gregg.
The reason for that, said Gregg, is that the board during his two terms has included people who sincerely want to keep Eagle a great place to live. “Everybody’s leading with their hearts,” he said.
Boyd agreed with that assessment. “These are really committed people,” she said, adding that outside his town board service Gregg, as well as Ehrenberg, have put in countless hours of work on the ice rink in town park.
While board members’ hearts may be with the town, they aren’t always pointing in the same direction. Gregg said that several years ago he was an early advocate of letting voters decide the location of Eagle’s new town hall. Initial plans called for moving the facility out to Eagle Ranch.
“There have been maybe three times in my life I’ve said, ‘Over my dead body,’ and that was one of them,” said Gregg. “There was no way we were going to make that decision without the voters.”
Elected representatives have to make most long-term decisions, though, and Gregg said he’s tried to base his philosophy of public service on a Chinese proverb: “If it’s not good for your children’s children, don’t do it.”
That would explain his dedication to public service. Before serving on the town board, Gregg was an elected member of the town’s former sewer service district. Stavney said Gregg was instrumental in getting that meagerly-funded entity absorbed into the town.
“I shudder to think where we’d be today if we hadn’t done that,” said Gregg, who credits the accomplishments of the people who served on the sewer board for years with a very restricted budget.
Gregg, who first responded to an interview request by nearly shouting, “I’m a believer in term limits,” said he’s confident the town is prepared for future challenges.
“This is an incredible town, and it always will be,” said Gregg. “I’m confident the new folks will pick up where we left off.”
Public service runs in Bruce Hasbrouck’s family. His mother was employed by the New Jersey town where he grew up, and his father was both a police officer and volunteer firefighter.
Hasbrouck joined the local rescue squad at age 18, and was a police officer in his home state for five years. Moving to the valley in 1979, he served a short stint on the Avon Police Department before settling into his career as a builder.
After moving to Eagle in 1985, Hasbrouck became involved in the community, and was appointed to the Eagle Planning and Zoning Commission in 1992. He can’t remember exactly why he decided to run for town board in 1996, other than it seemed the right thing to do at the time.
Like Ehrenberg, though, Hasbrouck saw Adam’s Rib as a challenge to the town’s quality of life, and hoped he could guide the decision-making process. He ultimately voted for the town’s settlement with Kummer, but not without swallowing hard.
“I didn’t agree with (the deal), either,” he said. “Part of me wanted to fight it. But to be responsible to the people who elected us, it was the best business decision we could make.”
“Bruce really steps up when we have a tough decision to make,” said Stavney. “You can tell he’s thought a lot about what’s happening and he has great things to say.”
His business sense impressed Boyd during her years on the board, too. “Bruce always looked at every line item when we were paying the bills,” she said. “He was good at it, too.”
While Eagle’s been changing over the years, Hasbrouck said he sees most of the change close to his home in the heart of town. Over the years, a handful of treasured neighbors and friends – most of whom were in town for decades before Hasbrouck arrived – have moved out of the valley or out of this life. “It’s hard to see that,” he said.
Even with all the changes, the town has had several successes over the years, he said Eagle Ranch, for instance, contributed a golf course to the community. The library and recreation facilities make the town a distinctive small community.
“I remember when (Deane) was taking police chief candidates on tours of the town,” said Hasbrouck. “She told me they’d tell her how amazed they were at what we have here. That’s good to hear.”
If Roxie Deane sought a title, it might be “Madam Teamwork.”
While Ehrenberg, Gregg and Hasbrouck talked about issues, the first thing Deane wanted to talk about is the collaborative efforts that, she said, have added so much to the town over the years.
The ice rink, new pool and, a few years ago, an expanded gym with community hours at Eagle Valley Middle School were all the result of working with the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District and the Eagle County School District. The developers of Eagle Ranch participated in the deals for both the pool and ice rink and the golf course, which will be owned by the town in the next few years.
The town’s library required cooperation of the county’s library district, the county, the Eagle Valley Clinic and the town. And the town was part of a big team that closed the deal on Sylvan Lake State Park. That effort involved the cooperation of the state, the county, a nonprofit group, the town and, property seller Fred Kummer.
Perhaps closest to Deane’s heart, though, is the prospect of a new medical center, a joint project of Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and Vail Valley Medical Center. “Valley View and Vail Valley have been competing for years,” said Deane, who manages the Eagle Valley Medical Center, which is associated with Valley View. “It’s exciting to see this project coming together.”
All those projects were big, said Deane, but, “None of those things could have been done with just one person or one entity.”
“Those things have been the most fun for me. It’s by far the most complicated thing we do, but it’s the most satisfying because you get to really see the results of what you’ve done,” she said.
Deane is actually finishing her third term on the town board. She served from 1992 to 1996 as a trustee, then ran for mayor in 1996 when former Mayor Bill Cunningham announced his retirement. “I thought, ‘I can do this,'” she said.
And, by the accounts of her colleagues, she’s done well. “I can’t even start to talk about Roxie,” said Stavney, who will run for mayor this spring. “She’s just been great.”
Boyd said she agreed. “The thing about Roxie is she has the rare ability to treat people respectfully. Even if she doesn’t vote the way they want, she can disagree, but maintain her civility,” Boyd said.
Like her colleagues, Deane said this board has been enjoyable to work on because it’s a good group of people. While last fall’s controversy over Tract O at Eagle Ranch was contentious, “Two weeks later we were all fine and ready to start on the next thing,” she said.
While Deane is ready to hand over her gavel, she said she does want to see one more project finished before she leaves. Town administrators are now working on a community survey that will ask residents for their opinions on a host of issues.
“It’s real important to see what the community wants,” Deane said. Community attitudes will be especially important as the next town board moves forward with the Red Mountain Ranch project, she said.
“If people say they don’t want big boxes, but they go shopping in Glenwood or Avon twice a week, we need to consider that,” Deane said.
With that big project looming, Deane said she hopes the next board can use the lessons learned over the past few years, especially about working together.
“It’s taken years, but Eagle, Gypsum and WECMRD finally realize we don’t need to build duplicate facilities,” she said. “It’s just too expensive to go it alone.”