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Red Mountain Ranch is Smart Growth

Staff Reports

Two primary goals of any community are a high quality of life and economic vitality. The two are interrelated. They do not happen by accident. They are achieved through clear vision and effective planning, which characterize Red Mountain Ranch.The Town of Eagle is rapidly expanding from already approved building permits. The town’s population is expected to grow from 4,647 in 2005 to 7,468 in 2015, an increase of over 60 percent. In the same time period, Eagle County is expected to grow from 49,143 to 61,708. The trade area population for a Red Mountain Ranch shopping center depends on the type of stores. Some will draw from four counties, Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin and Summit. These will have a combined population in 2005 of 145,087 and that is expected to grow to 188,232 by 2015, according to the State demographer. Traffic from this populous area will contribute to all Eagle businesses not just to those at Red Mountain Ranch.In a recent survey the residents of Eagle spend only 14 percent of their shopping dollars in Eagle and 86 percent in nearby communities and Denver. Thus with the expected population growth in the area and the fact that most of Eagle residents now spend their shopping dollars elsewhere, the demand for a local shopping center is clear. The advantages for such a center go well beyond convenience for the shopper. The sales and tax dollars stay at home.Most people accept that change is inevitable. We strive for improved living standards, comfort and enjoyment of our surroundings. We seek convenience but without sacrificing “quality of life.” The trick then is to embark on planned quality growth that does not negatively affect the quality of life. Not everyone agrees on the definitions of quality growth and quality of life. However the Urban Land Institute, a premier land planning organization of professionals, says these are the hallmarks of quality growth: It should help preserve the quality of life. It should preserve open space. It should help revitalize existing communities and it should be structured so that decisions are predictable, fair and cost efficient. The Red Mountain Ranch project admirably embraces these issues because of its vision and planning covering the next 15 years. And here is how that has been accomplished.The project has been designed to meet the shopping and housing demands for a rapidly growing community. The projected retail space will return sufficient tax revenues to the Town of Eagle to eliminate the expected cumulative deficits in 2015 in the General and Capital Funds. This deficit is forecasted at $12.1 million without the project. With Red Mountain Ranch, a $ 2.8 million surplus is forecasted even after paying for the capital improvements of $23 million.One important use of any surplus dollars that Red Mountain would provide is the purchase of developable land for open space in Brush Creek, where there are thousands of acres available for open space. This, certainly, would positively affect the quality of life in Eagle.One of the positive fallouts for homeowners is that the project eliminates the need to increase property taxes, which is the only other source of revenue that the town has.The project location, primarily between I-70 and U.S. 6, is appropriate for the commercial and affordable housing that will sit on an 80-acre parcel in the 412.5 total acres and is contiguous to the existing Industrial Park extending east from Chambers Avenue to the Van Campen house.That 80-acre parcel was earmarked as a “regional retail center” in the Town of Eagle Master Plan. Some critics argue that new development will replace elk that sometimes bed in the pasture. The elk moved to the meadows from their previous location where the post office and industrial park now stand. The owners have set aside 43 percent of the entire acreage as open space so the elk will still have room to roam if they wish. Also, Red Mountain Ranch will dedicate several riverfront acres to the town for recreational purposes, including bike paths, parks, and fishing. Thus the project makes numerous and important contributions to the citizens of Eagle. These include convenient shopping, open space, recreational land, affordable housing, and tax revenues which pay for downtown rehabilitation and road and infrastructure upgrades without increasing property taxes. All of these contribute to the quality of life in the Town of Eagle.Red Mountain Ranch property is privately owned land next to I-70. It has been held for many years by the owners who now want to develop it. There are two alternatives to developing the land. The one currently being pursued is to develop the property under a Master Plan, subject to review, deliberation, public inputs, and vote by the Town Board of Trustees. The application for the required zoning also includes a Development Guide. This sets land use and development standards for the project. The Guide will serve as the official governing regulations for Red Mountain Ranch. This gives the Town of Eagle the means for ensuring compliance.The other alternative is to sell off smaller parcels of raw land, piecemeal. There will be little control of how these parcels are used, there will be no public hearings, and there will be no 43 percent open space that Red Mountain Ranch is offering. The choice then is this: a master planned commercial/residential project, under the town’s jurisdiction, that returns many benefits to the community, or piecemeal selling of small parcels with little or no controls, and no open space, all of which contributes very little, if anything, to the community.Often the numbers that are talked about in a project such as the 450,000 square feet of commercial space, and 300 affordable housing units, are scary, because they are big. However, this is a 15-20 year project and these are “build-out” numbers. The first phase, which would still take approximately 10 years, calls for 250,000 square feet of commercial space. Red Mountain Ranch has committed to build nothing on speculation, but rather only when potential tenants have made a commitment. Developers do not rashly overbuild a project just because they might have approval for a final certain size. Construction must match demand for space and is highly dependent on absorption rates. Red Mountain Ranch will be carefully monitored and controlled to fit local conditions. It only makes good business sense to do so.Some people are concerned that the Red Mountain Ranch development will hurt existing retail shops on Broadway and deter new shops from opening. A survey was made of eight small Avon merchants who had to face, in a short time period, competition from several new big and medium “boxes.” These eight were selected because it was thought their particular businesses would be most affected. It was expected that some, maybe all, would have been negatively affected in the beginning. All either reported no negative effect or a positive one due to increased shoppers’ traffic. Besides, downtown Broadway has not been able to fill vacant spaces and there presently is no Red Mountain Ranch.The owners are very sensitive to the appearance of their project and will use attractive Western style architecture. There will be attractive streetscapes and customer friendly amenities. Also, contrary to the concern that big boxes have ugly tar roofs, the ones being built today simply do not, and the architects on this project have built in a high level of landscaping and attractive pedestrian and street designs resulting in great curb appeal. The designs will all be reviewed at the next town meeting, open to the public, on April 12.Gypsum is an alternative site for some of the larger retailers who have expressed an interest in locating in Eagle. If the retailers go to Gypsum, the Town of Eagle would lose a major source of tax revenue and would lose the advantage of more traffic that would help make up that loss.Even tax revenue sharing with Gypsum, if it could be agreed, would result in a net loss to Eagle. There would be a loss of sales revenue for City Market and other merchants at the Eagle Interchange as well as lost revenue for Broadway merchants as shoppers go to Gypsum. There would be no increased traffic in Eagle to make up for the loss.There are only two major sources of income for the Town of Eagle: sales taxes and property taxes. The sales tax route is by far the best way to fund the town’s projects, which will improve the quality of life for its citizens.Red Mountain Ranch is smart growth, and much better than the alternative. It deserves solid support. VTBill Clinkenbeard is a consultant for the Red Mountain Ranch project. He has no vested interest in the project. He can be reached for comment at billclink@comcast.net.


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