Vail Valley Voices: Eagle trustee wrong on Eagle River Station
Eagle, CO, Colorado
Members of the Yes! For Eagle’s Future group strongly disagree with Scott Hunn’s conclusions on Eagle River Station and his decision to be one of only two Town Board members who voted “no” to the approval of the planned unit development (PUD).
Scott, in his lengthy Power Point presentation, claims his decision was based on the 1996 version of the Eagle Area Community Plan (EACP), but he forgot some very salient and interesting points.
Apparently, the other five Town Board members were more familiar with the entire document and also the fact that Bill Gray, the town planner at the initiation of the application, had done an exhaustive examination of the application with reference to the EACP and concluded that the proposed project was in compliance with the EACP.
This Eagle Area Community Plan was written in 1996 by a committee of concerned citizen volunteers utilizing public input, as well as their own perspectives. The committee formed to update this document has grappled with the inherent complexity of the job, and the update is still not complete.
It is important to know that this is a guiding document and not a set of rules and regulations to be strictly adhered to. It is impossible for a group of people to correctly anticipate all events and contingencies that might take place in the next 10 to 15 years.
Support Local Journalism
As the writers of the plan said, “As the old saying goes, he who lives by the crystal ball ends up eating ground glass.” The future has a way of turning even the best plan on its head. In fact, we have seen an explosion of population and construction in all of Eagle County that was not anticipated in 1996.
To begin with, in the “Implementing Actions” section of the plan, it is mentioned that the preliminary growth boundary is drawn east of the (then) current town boundary at the edge of the Eagle Valley Commercial Park subdivision. It clearly says that “The area between the town limits and the outer growth boundary should be a 60-80 acre transitional mixed-use area accommodating commercial and institutional uses, and residential uses” and “development should be sited and designed to reduce visual impacts from I-70 and any potential environmental impacts to the Eagle River. “It also says that “any development application for an individual property should include all lands”(two large acreage ownerships).
Let’s think for a minute what that section really means. The “all lands” mentioned would have actually included about 400 acres of land, spawning a truly huge development, but the area encompassed by the preliminary growth boundary and the outer growth boundary was defined at 60-80 acres. That’s a lot of acreage and would require that a large commercial, institutional and residential project be built.
Eagle River Station provides that and also provides the transitional mixed use area. The dictionary tells us the word “transitional” refers to a “movement, passage or change from one position, state or concept to another.” The ERS plan provides higher density residential on the eastern end of the property where it is most conveniently located for access to work places both on Chambers and within the project itself. Then, moving eastward, it changes to two-story retail, hospitality and residential space, and then moves to single story specialty retail. From there, the project passes along to single-story large format stores which are closest to the interstate interchange, as they should be.
A development of 60-80 acres, no matter what it is, could hardly be invisible. Much of ERS has single or two-story buildings with Western style architecture and incorporates local “lot and block” planning. It is buffered from the highway by parking and landscaping. This serves to mitigate visual impacts, and frankly will be a pleasant change from what we see now along Chambers when we come into town from the east. Advanced technologies are being used to protect the Eagle River from undesirable run-off from parking surfaces.
The EACP anticipates some other contingencies with new development in this area. It goes on to say, “A connection to Highway 6 and Interstate 70 will be an absolutely essential part of the transitional growth phase.” So the idea of an eastern interchange for the town is certainly not a new one, and is absolutely essential for continued commercial growth to bring in additional revenues.
With all this in mind, it certainly appears that ERS is exactly what the plan envisioned.
In the “Guiding Policy” section of the EACP, in the discussion of diversification of the local economy, more is said about this zone. It says, “The county and town should take steps to protect the more desirable, higher visibility and image parcels along Interstate 70. Zoning regulation should be changed to encourage higher quality development such as regional retailers and office-business parks in this corridor and to prohibit uses such as storage yards, maintenance facilities and other more industrially oriented uses.”
This makes it pretty clear that the writers saw this area as being a prime one for high quality retail and other commercial uses, and did not want to see more of the same uses that existed on Chambers. So once again, the stage is set for a significant retail-type development.
In 1996, the writers of the EACP decided that “all new large scale, big box, commercial and industrial businesses must be located in the Chambers Avenue …,” which seemed like a really good idea at the time.
However, as years passed, this became a terrible idea, and one that no big box retailer would embrace. Chambers is a traffic-clotting cul-de-sac, and the remaining lots are too small to support a large format store with parking. The post office, Justice Center, school district office building and so forth do not provide compatible draw for retail.
But the more compelling truth is that without the new water tank and lines provided by ERS, there is not enough water infrastructure for any new development to happen on Chambers at all. None. The Justice Center expansion was the last.
Unfortunately, the crystal ball did not reveal these issues at the time the plan was written. Should we be permanently tied to an outdated vision for the future?
It is very clear that the EACP always anticipated that a large commercial development of some type would be the very best choice for a high-profile parcel along I-70 on the eastern border of town. Such a project cannot be entirely dependant on bicycle or foot traffic but can connect with trails, as ERS does.
We live in a long, narrow strip of land that runs east and west along I-70 here in the mountains, and that determines the over all orientation of a project. We are extremely fortunate that a professional developer with an excellent reputation and retail contacts is interested enough in this location to persevere through three and a half years of grueling application process.
In order to thrive in the sure to be changing conditions of the future, we know that Eagle needs a revenue support system, even if we aren’t certain what changes will take place. In Colorado, as in other states, that system necessarily includes sales tax revenue. Increased property taxes are not a viable option.
We believe that five of the Town Board members had it right when they voted, and two had it wrong. We support Eagle River Station.
Dale Aden, John and Pat Cook, Nora Fryklund, Bob and Diane Holmes, Jay Jaffe, Durk and Suzy Price, Rick and Frances Rolater