Vail council wrestles with park plans
Ryan Summerlin April 2, 2013
VAIL, Colorado – People here love their public spaces. They just can’t always agree how to use them. For proof, look no further than Ford Park.
The park is used for everything from winter parking to summer classical music. The Betty Ford Alpine Garden is one of the town’s best-loved features. But the park’s popularity has led to conflicts.
Some in town want to update the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. The alpine gardens wants an educational center. Others believe, fervently, that one more square foot of concrete is more than the park can bear.
Those conflicts ultimately led the Vail Town Council last month to rescind approvals for proposed improvements to the park. At the time, council members said they wanted a more clear plan for the park’s future. The problem is that there are three plans from three different eras – 1985, 1997 and 2012.
Vail Community Development Department Director George Ruther Tuesday presented the council with ideas to blend those plans into something that can better guide the park’s future.
After more than two hours of council discussion, here’s a quick look at what that plan may look like:
• Virtually all of the 1985 plan for the park will remain intact.
• The same is true for a 1997 plan that directs management of the park.
• The new plan would greatly limit what could be built on the park’s “lower bench,” the part that includes the amphitheater, the gardens, a playground and an open field.
That third part of the proposed plan came as a response to complaints that plans for the amphitheater and garden put too much new building into that part of the park.
Nicola Ripley, executive director of the alpine gardens, said that group could possibly build an educational center near the athletic fields on the upper bench instead of the lower bench.
But Jack Hunn of the Vail Valley Foundation – which operates the amphitheater – cautioned the council about placing too many restrictions on future improvements.
Hunn said if the proposed restrictions in the new plan had been in place in 1997, the theater would still have inadequate restrooms, a roof that leaked on patrons “and a concession stand that could only sell popcorn.”
Hunn’s comments drew applause, but opposition to more improvements remains strong.
Tom Steinberg, who was on the town council when it purchased the land for the park, said the park had been “abused” over the years.
“We’ve built enough over the years,” Steinberg said.
Another former council member, Bob Armour, who served when the 1997 management plan was created, said he empathized with members of the current council.
“Too many people have an interest in Ford Park and too many people want to add things to it.”
But despite the opposition, the Foundation and alpine gardens may still be able to see through their future plans. They’ll just have to do it by adhering to yet another plan.
Council member Kevin Foley said that’s a step the council should have taken last year before the now-derailed projects were first approved.
“That was one of the problems we had last April,” Foley said.
The council will take up the planning process again at its April 16 meeting.