Vail Daily Editor and Publisher Don Rogers: Avon at the edge of Village abyss
Vail, CO, Colorado
Legal, financial and economic pressures have coalesced into a perfect storm for the town of Avon.
Now the clock is running out.
The town is on the verge of entering a court trial it’ll likely lose, about to be abandoned by the bank that controls whether the sprawling Village at Avon becomes a development or lies dormant pretty much forever, and close to squandering its economic opportunity to a similar development just starting in Eagle.
That’s not all.
The judge overseeing mediation between the town and the developer set a speedy timeline to a new agreement and seems quite firm about it.
The neighborhood across the railroad tracks just south of the development has risen again to provide about 99 percent of the protest against the latest plan.
And the developer, perhaps overplaying its hand in this poker round, has thrown some changes into the plan at the 11th hour, too late for the town to vet properly and stay on track with the judge’s ambitious schedule, town officials complain.
Let’s start with the litigation that for a handful of years has combined with the recession to stall all progress on the development.
Everyone seems to agree that going to a trial would serve only lawyers’ interests. That might be the only key point on which agreement is universal – other than perhaps the neighborhood to the south.
The developer seems to have the legal upper hand and would most likely win in court. Besides that, there appear to be documents showing a deliberate effort to stymie the developer that would be embarrassing at best to the town if they came out in a trial.
The town, already bleeding dollars from fighting the developer, stands to hemorrhage if it can’t manage to avoid a trial. That puts the town in the unenviable position of losing even if it wins in court.
Meantime, the bank that holds the keys to financing the development is growing more restive by the day. Its attorney says the bank’s aim is to wind up with a development on track. But the institution may lose faith in the process even before the judge does.
After all, the bank can call in the bonds and take a modest return on the investment without the fuss. That would hurt the developer, of course, but drag down the town, too. Those bills don’t stop, after all, just because nothin’ else gets built.
Property owner Magnus Lindholm won’t, and probably can’t, sell the land to a more compliant developer. At least not anytime soon. Foreclosure isn’t an option because the revenue bonds that paid for the roundabouts and other improvements are tied to revenue from the stores there, not the land. And the land is owned free and clear by Lindholm.
The Great Recession certainly reshaped the valley’s economy, never mind the world’s. There’s real question whether any of these grand plans for development are viable any longer. But now the 14-year-old Village at Avon has competition from Gypsum’s Tower Center, Wolcott and especially the recently approved Eagle River Station along Interstate 70 in east Eagle.
Eagle River Station, while needing to build infrastructure, won’t endure the acrimony that has plagued the Village at Avon. Eagle’s project presents the biggest threat economically to the Village at Avon’s commercial plans.
Any one of these big three challenges – legal, financial, economic – is enough to trip up Avon. Combine the three and the odds against this project get longer.
So I’m not sure why the council would delay its work now, while the cost meter whirls and the clock on the judge’s deadline ticks down, or why the developer thinks reworking the plan at the 11th hour is going to help.
Neither the judge nor the bank seem particularly confident in the decision-makers’ ability to close the deal right now. I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of wisdom in testing that at this point.
Of course, there are plenty of details on a project as large as the current town of Avon, but what should happen from here doesn’t seem so, so complicated.
If I were king, here’s what I’d do with the following points of contention:
• The neighbors on the other side of the railroad tracks, on Hurd Lane and Eaglebend Drive, will not be happy with anything that happens on the valley floor of the Village at Avon.
They bought homes next to an old airport property and should hardly be surprised that this large private holding ideally suited for development would someday be … developed.
The rest of the town suffers with the dollar drain involved here.
The developer’s plans actually make sense for the location, even with the late switch to a more vague use that could include commercial vs. strictly residential. Drive the area and it’s obvious.
When all that the neighbors will do is protest whatever you do, what’s a council to do? I’d say act on behalf of the rest of your constituents, who ought to be storming council sessions for wasting so much effort trying to please a few who cannot possibly be pleased.
• Let the Village at Avon build a hotel, gas station, convenience store, whatever on the north side of the interchange. Goodness gracious, almost every interchange through Eagle County has this.
And the north side is ugly ol’ sage, hardly scenic stuff. The pretty view is to the south. Give the developer some ability to pay those bills to the town already. Sheesh. This just might be the biggest piece of nonsense in the whole deal.
• Speaking of nonsense, give the public school district what it really wants and needs: money. They have more than enough land between Edwards and Vail to satisfy school needs in perpetuity. If anything, they should be closing a couple of campuses.
The land set aside for Stone Creek Charter School, assuming it survives long enough to build a school there, actually is fine, maybe ideal, even with the easements pinching in.
This way the town gets an actual school in the Village, the school district gets some needed funds, and Stone Creek gets a better chance of survival.
• And the even smaller stuff, as least to the king: build the water tank, set up the tiny extra surcharge at the stores for upkeep (it only makes sense at this point), let a road cross the little rectangle of Forest Service land by the river.
No need to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, the ego to win out to a larger loss for the fuller community, to keep trying to please neighbors who will never be pleased, or to go to court over any of these issues.
Besides, this king’s a cynic about the Village at Avon: The odds are those fields will remain empty for years to come.
It’s time to stop the wrangling, the waste of time and especially the drain of town dollars.
Hold your nose if you have to, but approve the agreement and get on with it, council. Your town will be the better for it.
The alternative is to make things a lot worse.
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2920.
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