VAIL — The Vail Town Council on Tuesday paved the way for a new “lobby” to be built just outside the gates of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, and in the process delivered a strong rebuke to members of the town’s planning commission.
The council in August had sent a revised version of the plan to the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission. Council members at the time praised the plan, presented by the Vail Valley Foundation, which operates the amphitheater.
At that August meeting, Harry Frampton, the Vail Valley Foundation board of directors chairman, called the project essential to the future of the amphitheater, saying it provided a new public space for before and after performances.
The plaza was part of a package of improvements approved in 2012 by the Vail Town Council. The first phase of work was done in time for this year’s summer season at the facility. But the plaza plan encountered enough opposition from residents that the town council earlier this year withdrew its previous approval.
The plan calls for a canopy over the area just outside the amphitheater’s gates, as well as a wall that details the history of the Ford family in Vail. The plaza will be open to the public, except just before, during and after performances at the amphitheater.
After the council gave its blessing to the revised plan, it went to the town planning commission, where members rejected it on a 4-2 vote. Vail Valley Foundation representatives immediately appealed that decision to the town council, which has the ultimate power to approve or deny a development plan.
Council members didn’t ask many questions, having seen the plan just a few weeks earlier. But Mayor Andy Daly said he wanted to be sure that the restrooms at the amphitheater would be open to the public during business hours — except around performances. He also said the council’s goal for the “lobby” area was to have it open to the public just about all of the time there aren’t performances.
Vail Valley Foundation President Ceil Folz said her group would make that happen, and added that the Foundation would be the booking agents for wedding receptions and other non-performance events, and it would monitor that use compared to public access.
Tuesday’s meeting included a re-hash of the planning commission’s deliberations. Town planner Warren Campbell told council members that the planning board cited architectural inconsistency and the lack of a new “master plan” for Ford Park as reasons for denial. Campbell also said commission members skipped a planned visit to the site, where foundation representatives had set up a crane to indicate the height of the canopy.
Council member Margaret Rogers said skipping the site visit, and comments she’d read from the minutes of the planning commission hearing, convinced her that the board had “erred” in its decision.
“It doesn’t seem like they’re adhering to their mission as a board,” Rogers said.
“So many comments were like, ‘I don’t like it,’” she added. “That’s not part of their job.”
Council member Kerry Donovan, who voted against the plaza plan last month, voted to overturn the planning commission’s decision.
“My opinion about the merits haven’t changed,” Donovan said, adding that commission members missed an opportunity to make constructive changes to the plan when they voted against it.
“The (planning commission) erred in their actions,” Donovan said. “I hope the staff takes that (message) back to them.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.