Forget Congress battling over the health care bill. Afghanistan? It is on our radar, but we’ll focus on it after Jan. 5.
The big box battle is on in Eagle, and the local political machines are humming, nonstop. The question of whether or not Eagle should welcome a big box store “lifestyle center” (developer talk for “shopping mall”) will be put to local voters in the form of a referendum vote the first Tuesday in January. The proposed development is significant: 552,000 square feet of commercial space, a 150 room hotel, and 581 employee housing units, located on what is now a pasture on the east end of town.
Go to a coffee shop, the grocery store, out to have a beer, or browse through one of the downtown retail establishments, and somebody will bring up the big box referendum. The newspapers are stuffed with letters to the editor arguing the pros and cons of the project.
Supporters, including the majority of the Town Board, argue that the development and resulting sales tax revenues are critical for the town’s continued financial health. Currently, the lack of retail establishments means that people shop out of town, and those coveted sales tax revenues flow elsewhere. More sales tax revenues would help pay for routine business, such as street maintenance, and for the amenities that people enjoy, such as free concerts in the park or flower-filled pots on Eagle’s Main Street. The supporters call their campaign “YES for Eagle’s Future.”
Detractors cite the impact on Eagle’s small town character, and are skeptical of the developer’s projections of new jobs and big sales tax revenues. They are also wary about financial agreements and tax rebates that are part of the deal. Their campaign group has a more unwieldy (but informative) name: “Smart Growth—Not Urban Sprawl — Vote No on Eagle River Station.”
On any given night of the week, citizens can go to an “information” session hosted by one political group or another. Campaign signs are popping up in snow-covered yards and public rights-of-way. Both sides have conducted telephone polls. Each group is mailing out election fliers. The opposing camps are suspicious of each other's tactics. And, as is typical in small-town politics, passions are running high on this issue.
How will the Jan. 5th vote go? Given Eagle’s boomtown status, only a foolish person would be betting money for one outcome or another. There are too many “new” factors that will affect the vote. Most notably, due to the town’s rapid growth in recent years, the majority of the people in town are “newcomers” — they’ve lived here five years or less. Who knows what they want? And what about the long-time locals? Where do they stand on big box stores?
In the past, Eagle’s elections have always involved a trip to the Town Hall and the marking of a paper ballot. But Colorado has new election laws, and the Town Clerk is required to mail out at least 1,200 ballots. The people who did not sign up for mail ballots will have to make that Jan. 5 trip to the polls. The number of voters could easily double or triple any voter-turnout the town has previously experienced.
About the only sure prediction that can be made at this point is that this election will usher in a whole new era for Eagle.