This development’s no done deal
In last Sunday’s Vail Daily article “River worth the congestion,” Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell was quoted as saying, “570,000 square feet of commercial is set to be under construction in as little as a year.” This suggests that Eagle River Station (ERS), the project he is referring to, is “a done deal.” “Set to be under construction”? It just got denied at Planning and Zoning and hasn’t even been presented to the Town Council yet! Does the town manager know something we don’t? Unfortunately, Willy’s statement only exacerbates the negative thinking from numerous citizens that think a deal has already been cut. A statement like that certainly doesn’t help garner trust between town government and the community. I am perplexed and annoyed, just as many others are.Recently, Willy stated to me that he didn’t move here for regional shopping and actually “hates to shop,” but he also said, “The national retailers are coming and we can’t go back.” I agreed with him on one point. We can’t go back. We can’t annex the Gateway Center and the airport as we should have back when we had the chance, and we can’t un-annex Eagle Ranch and Adams Rib, which were approved without a viable, workable traffic plan. The town, with Willy at the helm, has made two dire mistakes in the past. We don’t have to make a third with ERS! n Regarding the east Eagle interchange issue, it is ridiculous thinking that regardless of ERS, an east interchange would alleviate congestion at Eby Creek Road, since most residents live south and west of Eagle and would prefer to take the existing exit. Numerous citizens have told CDOT just that. Another interchange is needed, but at the airport in Gypsum and/or just west of Eagle, where it would help filter the majority of traffic. Ironically, that west Eagle interchange would be in the town manager’s backyard, almost literally. n There was a letter to the editor from Frances and Rick Rolater on Nov. 20, wherein they stated that “ERS is a lifestyle center, not a mall or a big box center” and that “they are shocked and completely taken aback by P&Z’s incomprehensible actions.” Allow me to respond to the Rolaters: The Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-1 to deny ERS on Nov. 7 and did so without deliberation because it was so clear that it was in total noncompliance with our current Eagle Area Community Plan (EACP). Although the EACP is about to be updated, it is not a total revamping. ERS does not comply with most of the plan as it is currently written. In fact, the town Planning Department wrote a 17-page memo citing all the valid reasons why it doesn’t conform to it. n Furthermore, on July 21, Keith Montag from the county wrote a referral letter to the town of Eagle stating numerous reasons why ERS shouldn’t be annexed. Incidentally, there was no press coverage on that recommendation. n Various citizens spoke out and asked why there was an annexation hearing without a development proposal first. In fact, when questioned about this, the Eagle town attorney said something to the effect that “it is unusual for an annexation application be submitted before a PUD is on the table – it is legal but unusual.” The fact is the town of Eagle had never done if before. It was a great example of “the cart before the horse” theory. n Again in October, another county referral letter was written citing all the reasons why this project doesn’t conform to the EACP. We also expressed our concerns numerous times about going forward with ERS before the Eagle Area Community Plan was updated. I happened to be one of those numerous citizens that attended all of those meetings. Where were you, Frances and Rick? Outlined below are numerous other reasons why I, along with most citizens, are opposed to ERS:n The real picture. Eagle River Station (ERS) is actually being proposed as 1 million square feet plus of commercial. The 570,000 square feet is regional-national retail, including two-three medium boxes, although the developer, Vince Riggio with Trinity Development along with his joint venture partner, RED Development from Kansas City, prefer to call them “junior anchors.” RED’s spokesman said, “It is a mall with the roof taken off.” Vince told me back in June that these junior anchors will be in the 130,000-square-foot range and that Whole Foods is most likely not interested in Eagle or the lower valley. Furthermore, Vince said that he has no idea who would be coming, although many nationals show interest, including Target and Kohls, which are big boxes! None of us will know who the real players are until they actually sign a contract. Any developer will clearly tell you what you want to hear. That’s the way it works in development. In addition to the national retail is a 400-room theme hotel (at $250 a night!), 2 acre indoor water park, private Christian school and 100 employee-residential units (which aren’t “affordable housing” units) And, in regards to the Rolater’s comments about “RED having a significant track record,” my response is while RED has done numerous strip malls, they have all been in urban areas, not in a smaller mountain town like Eagle. And,Trinity/RED have no real experience with residential mixed-use centers. RED is from Kansas City, so in essence they would be a long-distance landlord with the money eventually flowing out of Eagle to their corporate headquarters. n The reasons for the P&Z denial. While the P&Z did not issue comments before the motion for denial at the Nov. 7 meeting, the various reasons for denial are well-documented above. Vince just didn’t revise his plan enough to comply with those recommendations. P&Z had four separate recommendations to base their decisions on, along with citizen comment, and I believe they felt the impetus to deny the project so quickly because it would save us all time sitting in town hall every other Tuesday night listening to something that just doesn’t work! Plus, public comment at that meeting and at every Town Council meeting has been resoundingly against this project. n The urbanization of Eagle and surroundings, which equates to sprawl and a major loss of quality of life. This is probably the most important issue facing us all and one that you can’t put a price on. We all moved here for a reason (small-town living, not regional shopping!) and this type of development negates all that we did move here for. Ask yourselves, Willy, Frances and Rick, did you move here for shopping or for quality of life? You can’t have both with a project of ERS’s magnitude. n On the issue of needing more sales tax, there are other ways to generate money for the town other than perceived sales tax dollars. We, as a proactive citizens group (Citizens for the Future of Eagle), along with the support of the Eagle Valley Chamber of Commerce of which I am a board member, have recently been brainstorming alternative sources of income for the town. A win-win for everyone in the long run. And our quality of life will be enhanced, not threatened.n Is there a real market for ERS with everything else happening in the valley and region – Traer Creek in Avon, Vail, Solaris and Lionshead, the Ginn project, Tower Center in Gypsum, Glenwood, etc.? How can all these shopping areas become and remain successful without a large population to support them? If ERS does get built, it may very likely go dark (like many centers around the country have) and then we are stuck with a big empty shell.n The need for thousands of employees is the most critical, economic issue. ERS would need in excess of 1,850 employees. The severe lack of work force is a huge concern throughout the mountains and is not expected to get any better any time in the future. There are numerous articles out there, plus recent reports and statistics from the Economic Council of Eagle County, Northwest Council of Governments and other entities that back this theory up, and I have seen them. They’ve also been seen by most of our Town Board, Willy Powell and ERS’s community relations & communications manager, Paulo Narduzzi. Frances and Rick, you saw one of the power point presentations just last week regarding the lack of work force and housing in the tri-county area. Don’t you think it painted a pretty grim picture in regards to ERS? I’m a retailer-service business that pays top dollar and I can’t even get a part-time salesperson for the first time in 15 years. Ask yourself this: What kind of experience would it be as a consumer to go to this large center where there are such limited employees? Wal-Mart and Home Depot in Avon are great examples of a bad experience. Everyone hates going there. Is that what we want for Eagle? Bottom line, Vince Riggio nor RED Development have any answers to this critical employee issue regardless of what is said by the consultants they are hiring.n The lack of affordable housing – where would the workers live? This is one of the largest issues facing Eagle County. Actually, affordable housing is an oxymoron and really no longer exists. But we, as a county, do need to address more affordable housing for workers and their families. Even families with decent double incomes can’t afford a single family home in Eagle or Gypsum. It’s the No. 1 reason why professionals choose not to move to this valley. They can’t afford to live here, much less achieve the American dream- purchase a home!n The impact to existing small businesses, especially downtown (which is just in the beginning throes of resurgence after spending $3 million -$4 million of taxpayer money) not to mention the current retail vacancy rate that exists today in downtown, Eagle Ranch and all parts of Eagle. Earlier in the spring, one of RED’s principals was quoted as saying, “We are in the business of creating towns.” ERS’s most recent marketing brochure says, “We may have created a bit of confusion at first by describing our vision to be Main Street-style outdoor retail. By no means do we mean to compete with downtown Eagle.” How can anyone really believe that ERS would not be hugely detrimental to downtown and other existing businesses? And, yes I am a downtown Eagle business owner with a vested interest, but thousands of citizens and the Town Board have said they want downtown to be the “heart and soul of Eagle.” ERS would surely suck the life blood out of it. Talk about wasting taxpayer dollars!n Parking-open space. An enormity of concrete and pavement is needed for 3,800 parking spaces. Their site plan did a great job of depicting this as there was vast gray space. In fact, it took up most of the rendering. There isn’t much open space, which is a real concern.n Wildlife impact and pollution to the Eagle River. This project creates a major environmental concern too detailed to get into in this article.n Light pollution. The dissipation of our night sky is a problem all over Eagle County and a great analogy of this is Costco. Check out the light it gives off at night!n Huge traffic impacts. According to their own study, ERS would generate 27,000 cars per day to existing roads, creating a seriously heavy burden on our infrastructure. The proposed east Eagle interchange (that Trinity/RED contends they will pay for) will do nothing to help facilitate traffic to the airport and nothing to help alleviate Eagle’s current and future traffic problems. All it really does is solve the access problem for ERS. There are many other reasons why this project shouldn’t be approved. But getting back to the initial point in the beginning, this shouldn’t be a done deal. Legally, it has to go through the process and that process is the developer presenting a PUD plan during public hearings and then the town trustees, with input from the citizens, will cast their vote. And, then we, the people, may very well get our chance to have our voices really heard in a referendum. We don’t have to sell our souls to the devil. We have choices. Jan Rosenthal Townsend of Citizens for the Future of Eagle owns stores in Eagle and Edwards.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO
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