Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Verdict Is In

And the majority went with "yes, we want a mall" by a 225 vote margin.

Very disappointed to say the least, but it is what it is.

I think everyone is ready to move on. I know I am.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why I'm Saying 'No.' Again.

CAUTION: Long post ahead. And I might swear a little. And it might be boring if you don't live around here...or maybe even if you do live here, come to think of it. This was hard to write because I have friends on both sides of the issue. But then one of the boys said something to the effect of, "If you feel that way, why don't you say something?" So at the eleventh hour, I'm growing a pair.

There's been a bit of a brouhaha brewing in our little town again this year.

Remember, about 2 1/2 years ago, when I was all up in arms about the potential of a mall/"lifestyle center" being built in our lovely mountain town? What? You don't keep a mental lock on all of my ranting and raving? I find that shocking.

Anyway, in January 2010, as a town, we got to vote on whether or not we wanted this mall, and the no vote prevailed. It was only by 156 votes or something like that, but the answer was no.

I was really excited. My Dad, who tends to be a little pessimistic (or maybe realistic) and who also spent the first half of his career in real estate threw a cup of cold water in my face and said, "They'll be back. And it will be sooner rather than later." Ewww, Dad, really? Do you really have to rain on my parade? But in my heart, I knew he was probably right.

So I wasn't wholly unprepared when lo and behold, over the course of the past year, the developer brought plans again to the town board. I'll spare you all of the gory details, but the bottom line is that tomorrow, we vote again.

And I don't have a good feeling about it. People see it as the panacea, the silver bullet. The thing that will save our town from the recession. I can't help thinking about my Grandpa, who will be 99 next month and is one of the smartest people I know, who has said to me on more than one occasion over the past few years, "You cannot spend your way out of a recession. Period." Which is just what people think will happen. This mall will be built and it will generate jobs and money and it will save us.

I haven't discussed this issue with a lot of people becauase it is so polarizing around here. It has pitted neighbor against neighbor. I hate it. But I don't hate it enough to vote yes. I'm holding the line. Here's why:

If I still lived in the urban sprawl we moved here from, and my sister was telling me about this going on in her mountain town, I'd say, "How exciting! You're going to get a Target!" And she would have said to me, "I didn't move to the mountains to shop." Sitting in one of the fastest growing counties in the U.S., I would have been taken aback by that. Who doesn't love to shop? To have every little thing you want (read: want, not need) right at your doorstep! Why, why, why wouldn't you want that?

But now I get it. We left, or maybe fled is a better word, suburbia six years ago. We loved our family, friends and neighbors who surrounded us in Ohio, but after spending many years vacationing in the town that is now our home, we found ourselves increasingly sad to go back to the traffic, the overpopulation, the overdevelpment that had become our lives. We saw that there was a simpler way to live. One that didn't require Target to get by (in fact, our budget appreciates that fact that I am now 35 miles from the nearest Target). After our move, a friend said to me, "How can you stand not being five miles from a Target?" I told her I can stand it quite nicely. There's nothing there I need.

There are so many reasons I don't want this mall-thing, that I hardly know where to begin. I won't even touch on the numbers. We all know there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. Both sides are twisting the numbers to be what they want them to be. All I know is my very-good-at-math-and-analysis husband crunched some numbers, waved them around in front of me and said, "This will be a net loss for the town in terms of sales tax revenue, mark my words." I'll take his word for it because I'm no good at math. And let's say nothing about the fact that supporters say this will bring construction jobs. My husband is in construction. In fact, he was unemployed for nearly a year. You'd think he'd be the first one to say this valley's construction industry needs this job. But he is even more opposed than I am. The president of the construction company my husband now works for? Also opposed. The construction industry in this valley is split -- some for and some against.

Let's see. What else. Oh, bottom line, I don't want a mall in my town. The fact that we don't have a mall is what makes our town special. I don't find it backward at all. In fact, I love it. I don't want to become Anytown, USA.

Some of the arguments "for" that I want to respond to:

Will you ski, hike, camp or do any of the things in Eagle less if there is a mall? No, of course not. But when I drive past that mall, I'll hate it and always think that we sold out. I'll look at the vast expanse of concrete and be sorry that we paved paradise and put up a parking lot so to speak. Again, any town can have that.

Our revene is down. We need revenue. We have to have a mall.
This seems to be a point of contention. Some people say our finances are fine. Some say we're on the verge of bankruptcy. Again, I won't debate the math, but I've heard enough people say, including the mayor, that we're fine and that not building this mall will not be the end of our town. Like all towns, we need to work on our recovery (see next topic).

Why didn't the people who voted "no" last time come up with a plan to generate revenue. Um, not my job. That would have been the job of the town board and mayor from that time period (new mayor and some new board members now). Your constituents said no, so why didn't you immediately set about figuring out a new plan if you were so worried about revenue? Seems to me that you cooled your heels until the developer came back around. Investigate the options. What's viable? Need help? Form a committee. Ask for volunteers. But don't except the people who elected you to do all the work just because they expressed an opinion different from yours.

The old downtowns of Rifle and Glenwood are thriving even after their towns built shopping areas on I-70, away from the towns. I'm not sure how we can even compare ourselves to those two cities. They have through traffic to points elsewhere (you go directly through Rifle if you're going anywhere north, and through Glenwood if you're going south). Eagle, for better or worse, doesn't have through traffic. Unless someone is heading to Sylvan Lake, they don't have to drive through town. When someone made that comparison, I almost laughed out loud.

We lose sales tax money to other cities and online shopping.
Of course we do. And that isn't going to change. Pick up a magazine about retailing or business in general. The future of retailing isn't in bricks and mortar stores. Yes, this means horrible things for the future of our downtown anyway, let alone if we build a gigantic mall on the interstate. When was the last time you pulled off at an exit to fill your car with gas, go to the bathroom, grab a hamburger -- whatever -- and then drove into the historic downtown to see what there was to see? I don't know about you, but my reply is never. If I'm on the interstate, I'm on my way somewhere. Unless that place is my destintion, I've got to keep moving. Got to get to hockey, the airport, hockey, a meeting, hockey. You get the idea. Hockey obviously keeps me from exploring other people's historic downtowns. Maybe I'm the exception.

My shopping habits weren't any different when I lived in Ohio and apparently had everything I could ever want in a ridiculously large shopping area (and all of its traffic, noise, congestion and crime) five miles from my house (which used to be in a very nice rural area where I rode my horse growing up). And what was the result? Did this shopping center so near to home get all of my tax dollars? Not even close. I bought a few things there. I bought a few things in other 'burbs around my burb. I bought online. In fact, there was one Christmas when the boys were young that I bragged to my husband that I never once went to a store and had to deal with crowds -- I shopped entirely online. Not a single local business or giant chain with a local store benefitted from me that year. I'm guessing I'm not alone.

So, while I am now very conscientious about trying to shop locally (as in local, local, not a chain store local), will you sometimes see me skipping from the post office with a Zappos box under my arm? Of course. Actually, a bag from Athleta would be more typical. Will you see me in a store in Avon or Glenwood Springs? Yes, of course. No one shopping area can be all things to all people. Frankly, I like leaving my section of the valley for points east or west sometimes, especially Denver. I like to go have an adventure sometimes, to eat out, go to a show, go to a sporting event, watch hockey...and do some occasional shopping. And then I am so very, very grateful when I hit the foothills coming west and can leave the traffic, noise, pollution, rudeness -- everything that comes with over-development -- behind.

What will the town do for money? I think there have been a lot of ideas floated that have legs. The one that sounds most viable to me is marketing ourselves as a mountain biking alternative to Fruita or even Moab for the Front Rangers who drive right by us on their way to those two meccas. Let's face it -- those two locations are a HAUL from Denver and they're driving right by some of the best mountain biking around. My husband, a former pro cyclist, frequently comments, "Why would I drive all that way when I have all of this (right now you need to picture me waving my arm 100 yards out the window of my house to the beautiful mountains that are RIGHT HERE) as my backyard?"

Would this take work? Yes, indeed. Will the town have to put in some effort? Yes. But that's their job. I'm pretty sure we elected them to do the will of the people, which was apparently ignored last time when we said no, but there you have it. Which makes me wonder, if it passes this time, can we come back around and make everyone vote again like they've done? Democracy. Where you vote and vote and vote until you get the result you want.

Bottom line, again, because I love to repeat myself: I don't want a mall here, taking up space in a green field people took steps to have designated as "blighted" so they could proceed with all of this. I don't want my kids growing up in the mass consumerism that has, in my mind, been the downfall of our country -- a place where we eat, drink, shop and spend, spend, spend to wretched excess and bankruptcy. I moved here to get away from it, and it fucking followed me. I'm sorry to everyone who also tried to escape the long arm of the developer because I seem to have dragged it here.

And honestly, no matter what I live near, the truth is that I can't afford to shop. My budget is taken up with my mortgage and food and recreational activities. Am I missing out by not having the latest styles in my closet? Or that my kids don't have the latest video game that was just released at Target and so we need to GET THERE RIGHT THIS SECOND, or that our movie theater only has three or four screens instead of 24? No, no, no and no. I cannot tell you how glad I am to be away from that horrific over-the-top everything lifestyle. While I enjoy going back to Ohio, I no longer enjoy going to the area where we used to live because it makes me sad to see how it has become...I don't even know what to call it. A mess, I guess.

Anyway, the real reason to vote no is that having all that mall-y stuff nearby would strike fear in my husband's heart about what I might run out and buy every day now. So if nothing else, if you even like my husband a little bit, vote no tomorrow.

This is what my life needs: