This Tuesday, the Vail Town Council will make one of the most important decisions in Vail's history, and almost no one knows about it!
Money collected for a conference center appears to be a windfall with unintended consequences and is on its way to other projects. Among them are Ford Park projects, and most are over the top, especially for a parcel purchased with public funds to prevent overdevelopment of the Gore Valley.
The public supported enlarging the athletic fields, but no one addressed the negative impacts to the lower bench of the huge walls necessary to create a larger flat area.
An innocent effort to build nicer facilities has resulted in restrooms, a concession building and a storage shed that are now the focal points of the athletic field. No longer do you see open space and grass. Buildings and parking visually dominate the upper bench.
Vail bought Ford Park in 1973 with bonds backed by a 1 percent sales tax aimed at open space. The idea was to prevent the "overdevelopment of Vail," a very real possibility recognized by a smart town manager (Terry Minger) and a dedicated, hands-on Vail Town Council. In 1979, the Town Council approved the 1 percent real estate transfer tax for "open space, recreational or park purposes."
In the 1990s, the town decided to reimburse the general fund with transfer tax funds for all of the open space purchases made in the 1970s.
Therefore, some open space parcels have been paid for twice with tax money specified for open space. Ford Park is one of them. Today it's under threat of over development with projects that are in the final stages of approval.
There's a Ford Park Master Plan and and Ford Park Management Plan. I was deeply involved in the writing of both of these documents. The master plan protects Ford Park as open space on the lower bench and active, outdoor recreation on the upper bench.
The Ford Amphitheater was built in 1987 into the hill, blended with the natural environment. Conflict was not long in coming: Who gets the parking? Should any athletic activities take place during concerts? How do all parties share the park? Those conflicts led to creation of the Ford Park Management Plan. A building for the Alpine Garden was rejected on the lower bench.
The No. 1 goal for the park, regardless of the document, has always been to "preserve and protect Ford Park."
The Alpine Gardens have again proposed a nearly 3,000-square-foot building on the lower bench that would be open year-round. This building makes an architectural statement in conflict with the goal of preserving and protecting Ford Park. A new building on the lower bench is in direct conflict with the input received during the public processes for the master and management plans.
No improvement is needed for the amphitheater entry, and especially this outlandish proposal that reminds me of the Oldenberg fiasco so many years ago. Destroying the mature and beautiful landscaping now in the plaza is simply unacceptable.
Another venue for weddings and liquor sales is not appropriate outside the walls of the amphitheater. The "Denver International Airport" tensile kite rising 35 feet above this "social courtyard" accomplishes nothing but to insult the public park it is in. Its mast is visible against the Gore Range from the Manor Vail Bridge. The building should not expand into the existing public plaza.
Additional hard surfaces seem to be increased at every opportunity in the park rather than diminished - more pavers, more road, more fences, more roofs, more stairs and many more walls. These projects do not protect the park from overdevelopment. They are overdevelopment.
The new service road to accommodate several semitrailer trucks a year is beyond description. There are so many unintended consequences to this road, which is being referred to as the million dollar road, that it would be impossible to cover them here. Simply stated, it is sad.
Ford Park is a treasure to visitors and residents alike, paid for twice with money meant to restrict development. It is easy to use the adopted master and management plans and current amendments to deny these proposals. I do not understand how they have been allowed to move forward.
It is time to say enough. No more development in Ford Park - especially on the lower bench.
Diana Donovan has lived in Vail since 1965 and served on a variety of boards and community groups, including the Vail Town Council from 1999 to 2005.