Jan Rosenthal Townsend: Bad timing for Eagle River Station
As we enter into the coming weeks of continued hearings on the proposed Eagle River Station project in East Eagle, we urge all Eagle-area residents (voters and nonvoters) to thoroughly educate themselves on the impacts of this project. Attending meetings is the best way to get educated ” they’re every Wednesday night at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.
There have been numerous articles and news blasts that have been daily headline news ” including a telling one in the July 17 edition of the Wall Street Journal, talking about a large variety of national store closings, bankruptcies, mall and lifestyle center vacancies and the cancellation of development plans all over the country.
We, at Citizens for the Future of Eagle are acutely aware of how most citizens feel about “maintaining small town character” and “preserving quality of life” since dozens of letters have been submitted talking to those points. They are the very reasons most of us moved to the mountains in the first place! Also, the town of Eagle should not disregard the 91-page booklet (containing 10,000 comments) last year compiled for the updated Eagle Area Community Plan. Those comments were resoundingly for preserving small-town character, concentrating infill in existing areas, protecting wildlife, the Eagle River and the night sky and most said “No big box retail in East Eagle!”
Lastly, the planning and zoning board voted 5-2 on July 23 to deny Eagle River Station and uphold Eagle’s important values as outlined in the 1996 Eagle Area Community Plan (under which this application is being judged). The developers will spin it how they may, but the commission cited numerous reasons why this project does not comply with the Eagle Area Community Plan. The Town Board should honor the planning and zoning commission’s wise decision to deny this project and we should commend them for their months of hard work and diligence.
Despite the quality of life issue, the real barometer for approving Eagle River Station will be measured in terms of the financing and “the cost sharing deal” i.e., gain to the town minus expenses/impacts incurred. The national and regional economic climate, centering around fledgling retail, numerous retail vacancies, the serious lack of a workforce (which is not getting any better), a huge residential glut and the shaky lending market (even AAAA-rated companies can’t get money!) must be carefully scrutinized. We need to examine all the aspects of this project’s finances without relying on the developer’s consultants to “tell us what we want to hear.” Thus far, their projections have all been positive. That is simply not realistic. Projections are speculative ” you can’t take them to the bank. If they are wrong, we, as citizens, are left holding the bag. Can we afford that in this market where many small businesses are struggling to stay open? Can we afford the real numbers to be off by 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent or more?…with impacts we’ll have to live with forever?
Furthermore, the developer’s prediction that they will open all the retail (565,000 square feet) year one with only a 5-percent vacancy rate is preposterous. Eagle River Station is five-plus times larger than the size of downtown Eagle or the size of Flat Irons Mall ” get your head around that! Residential sales are off by 50 percent according to the Vail Board of Realtors. And, yet, we are even contemplating building 581 apartment/condos at Eagle River Station? And at 65 foot heights?
Our newest, highly touted, affordable housing projects (The West End in Edwards, and Stratton Flats and Sawatch View in Gypsum) all have very few reservations with absolutely no assurance that those buyers will even qualify for a mortgage! Other projects have been tabled. This is NOT the time to do this project!
We implore you all to personally talk to realtors, bankers and local businesses/retailers throughout the valley to get a real feel for what is going on.
Count the “help wanted” signs and the “for sale” and “for lease” signs. We simply cannot ignore these important local economic conditions, which are indeed facts!
We hope and trust that our town trustees will make the right decision in the end once the financials are presented and numbers are really crunched. We believe that decision should be a unanimous denial for numerous reasons.
Jan Rosenthal Townsend is a member of the Citizens for the Future of Eagle.
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