Shopping complex clears hurdle in Eagle |

Shopping complex clears hurdle in Eagle

Kathy Heicher
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE ” Several hours after tweaking their zoning regulations enough to make it legal, the Eagle Town Board voted 6-1 Tuesday evening to approve concept plans for a major commercial development.

However, while casting their votes, several board members stressed that approval of a concept plan doesn’t mean the controversial Eagle River Station project is a go.

Rather, it allows the developer to proceed to the next level of review, where details such as density, economic feasibility, open space and distribution of sales tax revenues can be hashed out.

Tuesday’s hearing drew a much different crowd than has been present at previous meetings. Approximately 30 citizens spoke at the hearing, and about three-quarters of them voiced support for the project.

Eagle River Station developer Vince Riggio has been talking up his project at “fireside chats” with small groups of local residents.

Previous hearings have been dominated by citizens who opposed the project, voicing concerns about the impacts of big box-style retail and its impact on small town character.

Several supporters spoke of the need for the town the town to bolster its economy with sales-tax generating businesses.

“Timing is everything. It is important to send a message to retailers now that we support this project,” said Eagle Ranch resident Kim Bradley.

Opponents raised questions about the scale of the development.

“The densities are quite absurd,” said Suzanne Shepherd, who lives north of Eagle.

She noted that up to 581 homes are proposed on the parcel, which is located between Interstate 70 and Highway 6, and lies under the airport flight path.

Jan Rosenthal Townsend, a downtown business owner and consistent opponent of the development, said many people on both sides of the issue believe a citizen referendum would be “the most fair” way to ultimately decide on the project. However, she said a referendum would be premature before final approval of the project.

“There aren’t nearly enough details about the project at this point to make an informed decision by either the Town Board or the citizens,” she said.

The developer would not get vested rights on the project until the next level of approval.

“I think it is acceptable to go onto the next level … I agree with the general locations and uses,” said Town Board member Ed Woodland, adding that he shared the concern of the town staff and citizens regarding issues such as the economic feasibility of the project and the provision of open space.

Fellow Board member Scot Hunn said he still had concerns about financial feasibility of Eagle River Station, and about the project’s compliance with the Eagle Area Community Plan.

“I have questions about the size of the project, and whether it meets small town character,” said Hunn.

Earlier in the meeting, the adoption of an emergency amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance Tuesday night raised questions from some skeptical citizens, and raised Eagle Mayor Jon Stavney’s temper.

The emergency ordinance addressed two items: a 10-year-old wording glitch in the town’s zoning regulations, which made it legally impossible for the Town Board to approve a planned unit development that had been denied by the Planning Commission. In order to move the Eagle River Station development project forward, the Town Board had to change the wording.

Tied to that amendment was new zoning language regulating sexually-oriented businesses, such as strip clubs. The town had no existing rules addressing such businesses. The new law would limit the location of such businesses to industrial areas, and would specify they could not be located within 1,000 feet of schools, churches or other sexually oriented businesses. At this time, the town has not had any proposals for sexually oriented businesses.

By declaring the law an “emergency” ordinance, it went into effect immediately after the Town Board unanimously approved it. More typically, ordinances become effective 30 days after publication in the local newspaper.

The ordinance drew a skeptical response from some audience members, particularly those who oppose the Eagle River Station project.

“Why is this an emergency? You are about to change the rules in the middle of the process ” that doesn’t look good to me,” protested Eagle-area resident Dave Eckardt.

Stavney said the ordinance was a “housekeeping” item that needed to occur.

“It corrects a situation where planning (commission) officials have more power than elected officials,” said Stavney.

Stavney then offered some sharp criticism of the Eagle Planning and Zoning Commission, whose members are appointed by the Town Board. The commission has twice recommended denial of Eagle River Station ” once without any comment and the second time with somewhat minimal comments.

“My preference is to disband the Planning Commission for dereliction of duty … this is a major project with major impacts on the town. For them not to have findings is a dereliction of duty,” said Stavney.

That prompted some citizens to the defend the Planning Commission. Stavney later offered an apology for his comments.

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