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Not ashamed to be a NIMBY

Jan Rosenthal Townsend
Special to the Daily
Vail CO, Colorado

I’d like to set the record straight regarding a few comments in Kathy Heicher’s recent article that appeared in the Vail Daily on Friday, March 3. Within that article, Eagle River Station goes back to the planning and zoning commission, Ms. Heicher stated that Eagle River Station is a lifestyle center shopping mall with several large-format retailers, employee housing and a private school. The development would include two “junior anchor” stores, which are typically 120,000 to 130,000 square feet, as opposed to a big box, Wal-Mart-type store that is typically 180,000 square feet.

For the record, Eagle River Station is proposing two big-box stores. Their own planner, Tom Boni, recently said at the Feb. 22 Eagle Valley Homebuilder’s dinner presentation “We are proposing two junior anchors that are in the 125,000-square-foot range ” these are like the Target in Glenwood, but not as big as a Super Wal-Mart or Home Depot.” Interesting choice of words. One does have to admit junior anchor does sound a lot better than big box. Regardless of what they choose to call them, they are very large, they are sprawling and they require a huge amount of employees (which this county doesn’t have) and a lot of asphalt.

Furthermore, in the same article, Ms. Heicher quoted me as saying in regards to opponents rallying against the development, “We need to see it proposed first ” you’ve got to keep an open mind. I’m not anticipating much has changed.” I stand by that statement.

Since this past Tuesday’s meeting, the fact is the project has actually gotten worse. It is still massive ” over 1 million square feet in total. There have been changes to the overall layout and pattern, but there are still two big-box stores, although they have now moved location on the site. There are still a lot of unknowns and very little open space. The themed hotel and water park were just nixed, but now they are planning to “maybe” have a 150-room boutique hotel.

The biggest change is that the project will require 2,100 jobs (up from 1,850) and they have now added up to 581 affordable, employee housing units from the original 100. “Affordable” homes? Nothing is really affordable in Eagle County anymore, especially for service or retail workers.

Speaking of retail, developer Vince Riggio was quoted in the article as saying “there’s lots of people that don’t want to have to drive to Denver to buy shoes for their kids.” Vince, you live in Edwards. In case you aren’t aware (even though you have three kids yourself) there are plenty of stores that sell children’s shoes throughout the valley, including right here in Eagle.

Farther along in the article, Ms. Heicher’s mention that “opposition has also come from some property owners in the Diamond Star development east of town and from large acreage owners on Castle Peak Ranch north of town.” First of all, I have seen numerous e-mails, have read many letters in the paper and have heard various people speak out against this project over the past six months, including at this past Tuesday’s meeting. Only two of those people have been from Diamond Star and Castle Peak Ranch. Ms. Heicher’s mention of those two neighborhoods with their large lots insinuates that it is only the wealthy that look down on that land who oppose Eagle River Station. If that is the case, then why have so many people spoken out against it that are from Kaibab (myself), Brush Creek, Eagle Ranch, The Terrace, Bull Pasture, Downtown, Eby Creek, Red Canyon Townhomes and Canyon Woods? Many of us will proudly admit that we are indeed NIMBYs and don’t want to see that type of mass development anywhere near our “small town.” Small-town character was the basis of the 1996 Eagle Area Community Plan under which this development is being judged. Big-box stores, acres of asphalt and essentially creating another town (with 1,500 new residents living in it) is not my definition of small town. Is it yours?

Lastly, the most important clarification is that the article mentioned twice that “It was a lawyer who represents Diamond Star that threatened legal action last month.” The fact is the attorney mentioned does happen to attend and report to Diamond S owners on the ERS hearings because most are second-home owners and cannot attend. He happens to be an ally of the Citizens for the Future of Eagle and a damn good attorney who has lived in the valley for 24 years. Unlike some, he really values his quality of life and truly cares about what happens to Eagle and Eagle County and was merely using the good sense (and his legal expertise) to submit a document that simply pointed out “the provisions stated in the Eagle Municipal Code.” It had nothing to do with suing anyone and no lawsuit was ever mentioned nor was one intended.

However, in retrospect, we, as citizens, could have challenged any final approval of Eagle River Station in court if the code hadn’t been followed properly, which would have really put a snag in the development’s plan and would have been a huge embarrassment and financial burden to the Town of Eagle. But, once again it wasn’t about a lawsuit ” it was about pointing out the Eagle code provisions, which were never caught by Eagle River Station’s attorney or Eagle’s own town attorney. Nor was that code being followed. That code requires that the Town Board either a) affirms the planning commission’s decision to deny the application b) deny the zoning plan or c) require the proposal to be re-entered in the review process at the zoning plan stage, which would require it to be re-submitted to the planning commission. Eagle’s town attorney Ed Sands took the right course of action and asked Bill Gray, the town planner, his thoughts. They both conceded that since significant changes were recently made to the Eagle River Station plan, it should indeed go back to the planning commission. They made the right decision.

So, all in all, we will soon see what changes come about with this development in the coming weeks and months and what the project’s actual scope is. But it is vital that the real facts be presented, discussed in fine detail and subsequently written about in articles that have all the facts straight. We will indeed all see if “the train pulls out of the station” or if that train (and it’s conductor) actually gets derailed.

Jan Rosenthal Townsend is an Eagle resident and a member of the Citizens for the Future of Eagle.


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