Hockett Gulch left in the lurch after heated debate at Eagle Town Council meeting | VailDaily.com

Hockett Gulch left in the lurch after heated debate at Eagle Town Council meeting

Contested plans for open space programming could mean economic death for the project, developer says

The planned unit development guide for the Reserve at Hockett Gulch requires 300 square feet of open space per unit and that 15 percent of the total project constitute open space.
Courtesy image

Discussion bordered on debate during Tuesday’s Town Council meeting in Eagle, as council members reviewed preliminary plans, final plat, and permit approval for the Reserve at Hockett Gulch development.

In Tuesday’s meeting, the town’s Planning and Zoning commission failed to see eye to eye with project developers as to whether updated plans met key conditions outlined in the project’s planned unit development guide. The primary point of disagreement, referred to as “the sticking point” repeatedly in the evening’s discourse, concerned useable open space programming — defined in the Land Use and Development Code as an “open area of a lot designed and developed for uses, including, but not limited to, recreation, courts, gardens, parks, and landscaping.”

If constructed, the Hockett Gulch project would transform a currently undeveloped area in West Eagle, constructing hundreds of apartments and limited commercial space between Grand Avenue and Sylvan Lake Road. As proponents of the project are quick to point out, the development’s 400 new housing units could help to alleviate the county’s ongoing shortage of attainable housing.

Historically, however, not all members of the community have supported the town moving forward with the development. In October 2019, a vocal group of residents filed a series of petitions, calling for a referendum on the issue of development approval. The council rejected all five attempts at a referendum petition, citing various issues with the document’s compliance with state law. The final version garnered 304 signatures. 

Three years later, disagreement and equivocation could bring an end to the long controversial project. 

Carrie McCool, an Eagle contract planner, addressed the council on Tuesday evening, voicing the Planning and Zoning Commission’s collective doubt as to whether proposed sidewalks, internal pathways and landscaped areas should be considered “useable open space.” 

These features make up the majority (43,390 square feet) of the 64,800 square feet of useable open space stipulated by the guide to the planned development. 

While, in a staff report, the commission concluded that these areas met the technical definition provided, they did not find the development plans for open space to meet the spirit of the code. McCool articulated the argument that large portions of the planned pathways are incidental structures that are required for access to buildings and are thus not “designed” nor “developed” for recreational use. The report further points out that features like sidewalks are “not open areas” and “would not be consistent with the active recreational amenities.”

Jonathon Power, a co-founder and principal of Game Creek Holdings (a real estate development and investment company that jointly owns the Hockett Gulch property with Epoch Residential), addressed the council next.

Power defended several features called into question by McCool and the commission, highlighting that the code explicitly enumerates landscaping as an acceptable form of open space. He further advocated that planned walkways would be “multimodal,” allowing for recreational use. 

The conflict over open space requirements led to an unusually discursive exchange — a tone noted by those in attendance. Eagle Mayor Scott Turpinseed often took on a mediating role, as the commission and developer grappled with rivaling perspectives.

“I’ve never seen the applicant and staff be at such odds,” stated Turnipseed at one point during the meeting. 

The focus of Power’s presentation, however, was not solely a defense, but also a call to action. Acknowledging that interpretations of open space remain in dispute, he requested that Town Council members move forward with conditional approval of the development permit. 

“We need to get through this red tape,” Power said. “We are asking for council’s help tonight to push this project out of the planning phase.”

Walkways and landscaping can be classified later, but according to Power, for Hockett Gulch a timely approval is critical. Since December 2021, when the development began the approval process, the project’s construction price estimate has gone up 18 percent — a $9 million increase. 

Power expressed frustration with delays, and warned council members that further postponement could jeopardize the project entirely. Further escalation of cost could be budget-breaking, he explained. Additionally, if the development’s Phase 1 foundations are not completed in the fall, Power foresees lenders and equity partners potentially backing out. Despite Power’s pleas for a swift approval process, council members moved to table the issue until a later meeting.

Approval for the Hockett Gulch development will come before the council again on Aug. 23.

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