Leaders try to balance growth in Eagle
Twelve years ago, Eagle was a different place.
The Terrace subdivision was just beginning to build out. Eagle Ranch was still cow pasture. There was no public golf course and no indoor ice rink. Town business was conducted from a crowded building downtown that was over 100 years old.
East and West Brush creeks appeared destined to become a ski resort rather than the state park the area is today.
When former Eagle Mayor Roxie Deane, who left office earlier this month after serving on the Town Board for the past dozen years, looks at what has taken place in the town during that period, she says the new growth and changes are not a coincidence. Rather, she says, the changes are the results of dedicated board and staff members who shared a common vision.
Deane, a life-long Eagle resident who served four years as a board member and eight years a mayor, knows the numbers for the last 12 years.
“We had 16 different board members during that time period. They were all really dedicated to preserving a sense of community, and to keeping things in some sort of balance,” she says. “Nobody has a special interest. Nobody had an ax to grind.”
She credits the successes the town has enjoyed to a variety of factors, including the continuity of board members, many of whom served for two terms, and to an experienced town staff. There’s a number of employees, including Town Manager Willy Powell, Town Clerk Marilene Miller and Public Works Director Dusty Walls who measure their years with the town in decades.
“It hasn’t been just one or two people making things happen. The town of Eagle is really fortunate to have all of those people willing to sit down, roll up their sleeves, and work together,” says Deane.
Powell points out that current growth rates are more accelerated. In the past, subdivisions typically involved about 100 units, such as the Bull Pasture, or 200 units, such as the Terrace. In comparison, the Eagle Ranch development is 1,200 units. He expects the accelerated rates of growth to continue.
“That has caused the town government to spend most of its time keeping up with the impacts of new growth,” he says, noting that improvements are required to water, sewage and transportation systems.
Many of the town’s most notable changes are highly visible projects, such as the new Town Hall on Second and Broadway, completed in 2002 at a cost of $3.1 million; or the $5.2 million outdoor pool and indoor ice rink. The cost of building that facility was split between the town and the Western Eagle County Metro Recreation District. The Eagle Ranch developers donated the land, as part of their subdivision agreement.
Still, Deane says, the real driving force in ensuring that water, sewers, roads, schools, and emergency services keep up with growth is a philosophy that is backed by town regulations.
“We don’t put the burden (of new growth) on existing residents. We try to get new development to pay its own way,” explains Deane. In the past decade, various town boards, planning commissions, and citizens have spent hours on comprehensive growth plans, a water master plan and open lands plan.
Deane cites the town’s “Adequate Public Facilities” ordinance, and impact fees dedicated to emergency services and roads, as key to keeping up with growth. Those concepts, when adopted by the town, were controversial. Critics argued that street impact fees would keep new businesses from coming into town. Town leaders countered that without the fees, the necessary road improvements for handling increased traffic couldn’t be made, which would drive new business away.
Other new revenue streams include fire and ambulance service impact fees, and a tax on new construction materials. Powell stresses that a solid tax base is essential to keeping up with growth.
The Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance is a policy requiring developers to provide proof that roads, schools, water and sewer service are adequate before a project can be approved. That project prompted several developers of pending projects to rally behind the last school bond issue that funded a new elementary school in Eagle.
“It is a good, solid ordinance. We know we’re not over-taxing our existing residents for the sake of new development coming on line,” says Powell.
The policies have often earned Eagle the reputation of being an “anti-growth” community. There’s been some court challenges. Some local motel owners fought the town’s “occupation tax” on rooms all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Ultimately, the town prevailed and the money raised through that tax funds the town’s open space program, including the $500,000 donation that helped to purchase nearly 1,800 acres of land on East and West Brush creeks that had once been targeted for ski development. The land is now part of Sylvan Lake State Park.
Deane admits town leaders have dealt with some harsh criticisms for their growth policies. Still, she stands behind the fees and requirements. “It has made a huge difference in our ability to keep up with growth,” she says, “We always ask, ‘What does this development do for Eagle?'”
There’s a price to pay, she admits. The Town Board, through a lengthy negotiation process with Eagle Ranch, acquired such facilities as the public golf course, Brush Creek Park, an extensive trail system, some 900 acres of open space and the pavilion and playground facilities on Brush Creek.
Those requirements undoubtedly drove up the costs of the development, Deane acknowledges. Still, she says, the amenities are something all the residents of the town can enjoy.
Deane notes that the town has a long-term schedule and plans for infrastructure improvements, ranging form upgrading the sewer and water systems to regular street upkeep, and other improvements, such as a roundabout and the traffic lights on Eby Creek Road.
While important to the every day lives of residents, those kind of projects tend to go unnoticed until a sewer line backs up or water pressure fails because of too much demand on the system. Still, Deane points out, the town also keeps an eye on the citizen’s recreational and social needs.
“The past couple of years, we realized we haven’t done many fun projects. That’s when we started looking at recreation,” she says.
Actually, the town has had an eye on recreation for some time. In 1997, the town, working with the school and rec districts, contributed $170,000 towards the expansion of the gymnasium at Eagle Valley Middle School so the facility could be used after-hours. In a similar arrangement in 2002, the town contributed $120,850 to a “super-sizing” of the gym at Brush Creek Elementary School.
Looking back, Deane is quick to admit that the growth and progress have a price. There’s more people, more traffic and more issues.
“Would I prefer that Eagle Ranch was still a cow pasture? Heck yes. But I’m pretty proud of what we’ve accomplished,” says Deane.