Full go to full whoa: Eagle building numbers plummet | VailDaily.com

Full go to full whoa: Eagle building numbers plummet

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – What a difference a year makes.

Last year, the town of Eagle was the second-fastest growing town in the state, based on the percentage of population growth. And that was in a slightly slower-than-normal year.

This year, building has all but dried up in town. The bad news is that the national economic slump has hit Eagle’s tax and permit-fee revenue hard. The good news is that the town now has a little time to accommodate the growth it has experienced over the last 15 years or so.

“This is a chance to plan some capacity improvements,” Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell said.

But that doesn’t mean the town’s traffic, or demand for town services, has dropped, and the town is still working to keep up with the population roughly doubling between 2003 and 2007.

Work continues on a to-do list that includes a new sewer plant, and upgraded water treatment plant and expanding the capacity of Eby Creek Road, which links the town with Interstate 70. Planning also continues for a new interchange to the east of the existing one, in case the town – and, probably, its voters – approve the proposed Eagle River Station commercial and housing development on the east side of town.

For now, though, growth has pretty much stopped.

No one has much besides anecdotal evidence, but Powell said he hasn’t seen much in the way of people leaving town to this point.

“Our foreclosure rate is still pretty low,” he said.

But Don Cohen, director of the Economic Council of Eagle County, said he expects the county’s population will dip, and that Eagle and Gypsum could be hit by it.

Cohen, whose group tracks economic indicators in the county from unemployment rates to housing prices and rental vacancies, said the county’s population could drop 1 or 2 percent in the current slump, due primarily to construction workers leaving the valley. That could be roughly 1,000 people, given the county’s population of about 50,000.

With Eagle and Gypsum long known for relatively affordable housing prices, people leaving to chase construction work elsewhere could be leaving those areas. And, Cohen said, the drop in area real estate prices could goose sales or building in Edwards.

Both Powell and Cohen said the current slump will pass and growth will return. But how much growth and how fast?

“I think we won’t see the explosive growth we’ve seen in the past few years,” Powell said, particularly due to tighter lending standards for home mortgages.

But that’s going to be a key question to answer, especially as officials plan for future projects like water systems, roads and schools.

“You have to look 20 years into the future on those,” Powell said. “It’s going to be tough to figure out.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.

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