VAIL, Colorado - It was standing room only at the Vail Town Council chambers Tuesday night when roughly 75 people showed up to hear whether the council would withdraw a decision it made in 2012 that affects the future of Ford Park.
It was an embarrassing decision for the council - some of the members who voted to overturn the 2012 decision admitted they should have done their homework better at that time. The council voted 4-3 to "withdraw the owner's consent," meaning proposals currently under review can't continue through the review process, with members Ludwig Kurz, Margaret Rogers and Mayor Andy Daly opposing.
The controversy surrounded a 2012 plan approved by the town that amended the 1997 Ford Park Management Plan. The 1997 plan, which dealt more with the operations side of Ford Park rather than outlining future development, built upon a 1985 Ford Park Master Plan that did address future development.
The 1985 plan anticipates limited future development at the park, but the current debate has centered around whether the town's 2012 amendments are in line with the original vision. The 2012 amendments pave the way for improvements at the park - some of which are part of a second phase of projects that are already under construction under phase one - including playground restrooms, a Ford family tribute arrival feature, the widening of Betty Ford Way, nature trail improvements, a social courtyard entry to the amphitheater, a ticketing/restrooms/seating remodel at the amphitheater and an education center at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.
Because the 2012 plan opened the doors to these developments, stakeholders have already invested time and money into ensuring they get built. The 2012 plan did not, however, approve any specific project.
But that didn't stop the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens or the Vail Valley Foundation, which owns and operates the amphitheater, from planning for such projects.
Vail Valley Foundation Chairman of the Board Harry Frampton told the council if it withdrew its 2012 management plan approval, the foundation and the town would collectively have a major problem.
The Foundation solicited donations selling a whole package of improvements at Ford Park, Frampton said. Those improvements included both phase one and phase two projects. The foundation raised $4 million from four donors - donors who will want their money back if the whole package isn't getting built, Frampton said.
The immediate problem is that phase one is already under construction, but if donors pull out, the Foundation wouldn't have enough money to finish it.
"We basically spend every penny we make every year on this community - we have no savings account," Frampton said.
More importantly, Vail Valley Foundation President Ceil Folz told the town its decision Tuesday means the foundation wouldn't be able to start phase two construction this fall, which it had anticipated. And the foundation also wouldn't be able to begin construction in the fall of 2014, because the park can't be under construction during the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships, she said.
When Town Manager Stan Zemler said after the council's decision that it wouldn't affect current construction, that the Vail Valley Foundation had committed to the work being done, Frampton was shaking his head in the back of the room.
The other controversy centered around the proposed educational building at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. At least half-a-dozen board members and employees from the Betty Ford Gardens pleaded with the council Tuesday to keep its 2012 decision in place. Executive Director of the gardens Nicola Ripley assured the "tiny" building has been well designed to have a minimum impact.
"We know what the visitors want and will appreciate because we have interacted with 2 million of them," she said.
Longtime Vail resident Sheika Gramshammer, who called Betty Ford a friend, told the council they'd be "Indian givers" if they reversed the 2012 decision.
Plenty of residents also spoke out in favor of overturning it, though, and were pleased when they left the council chambers Tuesday night. Jonathan Staufer commended the council for admitting their mistake. While he said he supports the work the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and Vail Valley Foundation do at Ford Park, certain things just don't belong there.
"Offices don't belong in a park," Staufer said.
Longtime resident Tom Steinberg, Vail's first permanent doctor who has lived next to Ford Park for 45 years, said he was on the council when it bought the land for the park. He said it was to be a park for open space and recreation, and also accused the town of abusing the park over the years. A steep hillside down to the creek, for example, used to be covered in wildflowers became a snow dump covered in asphalt.
Tuesday's decision means the town will now review the 1985 Ford Park Master Plan and the 1997 Ford Park Management Plan. The town will revisit the issue at its April 2 meeting and will take public comment.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.