Eagle debate strikes chord | SteamboatToday.com

Eagle debate strikes chord

Development battle similar to Steamboat 700 conversation

Mike Lawrence

Eagle River Station supporters Matt James, left, and Melissa Lopez show their support for a "yes" vote as an opposer to the project walks by Jan. 5 in Eagle. The town saw its largest voter turnout in history that day, as the ERS development was turned down after a heated local debate. A public vote on the annexation of Steamboat 700 is expected to inspire the same passions. The Steamboat 700 mail-in vote will begin in mid-February and conclude March 9.

Jorge Duran and his son Georgie, of New Castle, lead a picket line during a carpenters' union rally Dec. 21 in Eagle, protesting the Eagle River Station project that town voters narrowly defeated Jan. 5. Campaigns for and against the development bear similarities to Steamboat 700, which Steamboat residents will vote on in a mail-only election that concludes March 9.

— Last week's vote by Eagle residents to deny a proposed development came after a debate about growth similar to local talk about Steamboat 700.

On Jan. 5, Eagle residents turned out in record numbers to vote on Eagle River Station, an 88-acre development that proposed 581 homes, a 150-room hotel and 552,000 square feet of commercial space, including a Target, on the town's east end. Trinity/RED Eagle was the developer for the project, slated for a site already annexed into the town.

Eagle Town Manager William "Willy" Powell said the vote would have changed the site's zoning from resource, or agricultural, to a planned unit development for Eagle River Station. The Vail Daily reported last week that in Eagle's highest voter turnout on record, residents defeated the proposal with 1,175 votes against and 1,019 in support, or about 53 to 47 percent.

About 61 percent of Eagle's 3,585 registered voters cast a ballot.

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Steamboat Springs residents will vote on a growth-related issue of their own next month, when ballots are sent for a mail-only election to determine whether the city annexes Steamboat 700. The development proposes about 2,000 homes and 380,000 square feet of commercial space on 487 acres west of city limits. City planning documents cite a 20- to 30-year timeframe for development. Ballots will be sent between Feb. 15 and 19, and the vote concludes March 9.

Many of the issues debated in Eagle are similar to those regarding Steamboat 700.

Powell said Eagle River Station was planned for a site within the town's growth boundary and which master planning documents had slated for development. Opponents of Eagle River Station questioned its traffic impacts, costs and size, while supporters — including Eagle Mayor Ed Woodland and four of the six other Eagle Town Board members — cited the development's potential boosts to city finances and city infrastructure projects including a new water treatment plant and area highway improvements.

Jan Rosenthal Townsend was a founding member of "Smart Growth — Not Urban Sprawl — Vote No on Eagle River Station," the campaign group opposing the development.

"I think the major thing for us was that it was at the gateway to Eagle; the major thing was its location," she said Monday, adding that she was still "on cloud nine" after leading an effort to defeat a project that had powerful backing. "It was just too big. They had to make it that big in order to get to their bottom line. … It was just wrong time, wrong place."

Paul Witt, spokesman for the developers, said their goal was to "put out all the facts about the project and let the voters decide." He said Monday that opponents of the project caused some "confusion and misinformation" about Eagle River Station.

"That had to do with funding at two other projects the developer had done. The opposition … kept trying to characterize it as a bailout, and it clearly wasn't," Witt said.

The Vote No group hired Denver-area consultant David Flaherty to manage the campaign and spent just less than $34,000 between Nov. 12 and Dec. 15, according to the Vail Daily. The supporting group, "Yes for Eagle's Future," spent just less than $14,000 between Nov. 1 and Dec. 10, the newspaper reported.

Powell said the community was sharply divided on the debate.

"Some people were concerned it would change the character of the community, other people said we need this so we can reverse the fortunes of town coffers," he said.

Powell said Eagle's sales tax revenues were about 10 percent less in 2009 than 2008, a difference of more than $200,000. Meanwhile, a boom in residential growth from 2003 to 2007 doubled the town's population from 3,000 to about 6,000, he said.

Witt said developers have not yet made any decisions about what to do with the Eagle River Station site.

Steamboat 700 consultant Curtis Church and Tim Rowse, of the Let's Vote committee opposing the annexation, said they did not closely follow the debate leading up to Eagle's vote.

Powell said Eagle is growing regardless of the result.

"One of the ways to look at it is the character of the town has already changed," Powell said, "because in effect we went from being a truly small town to a small city in a few short years."

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