Much has recently been said about protective covenants, deed restrictions and property rights in Vail. A deed restriction is the centerpiece of a lawsuit that has been filed by neighbors who object to the renovation plans for the golf course clubhouse. The plaintiffs claim the renovation, as currently proposed by the Vail Town Council, violates an existing deed restriction that was transferred when the land was acquired by the town in the 1980s.
In reviewing the deed restriction, it states that the property is “to be used in perpetuity for a public golf course or open space or park for the benefit of the public and only such other related support facilities required for those purposes.” Given that the proposed uses of the remodeled clubhouse are exactly the same uses that have continued for the past 30-plus years, I support the town’s position that a renovation of the clubhouse to improve upon existing year-round uses is entirely appropriate. To restrict existing uses would be a disservice to our community.
As approved by the Planning and Environmental Commission, the clubhouse renovation would add 2,974 square feet to the size of the current clubhouse building for a total of 21,841 square feet and would allow up to 160 guests, an increase of 20 to 40 more guests than what can currently be accommodated. This includes weddings and receptions, which have been held at this venue for as long as anyone can remember. In consideration of adjacent property owners, concessions have been made to address concerns about parking, noise and other operational issues through adoption of the Vail Golf Club and Nordic Clubhouse management and operations plan. While it is unfortunate that disagreements remain, this is a matter that should be settled by a court of law rather than public opinion or emotion. There’s just too much at stake.
Covenants and deed restrictions are part of Vail’s fabric. They were used by Vail’s early developers to assign land uses to their properties before the town was given statutory authority through incorporation in 1966. These early covenants addressed height restrictions, allowable uses and size limitations, for example. Vail’s first zoning laws, which were adopted in 1969, set out to memorialize the earlier covenants. With underlying zoning, the town is now able to apply its standards equally and without discrimination to any given property. Private covenants and deed restrictions, on the other hand, can be more restrictive, or conflicting with zoning, and even discretionary. And thus, the complications.
The Sunburst neighborhood, where the golf course clubhouse is situated, is a good example. There was once a covenant that restricted the size of the homes in the neighborhood to approximately 4,000 square feet. The affected property owners determined the covenant was outdated and should be removed. So, with the consent of two-thirds of the private property owners, the covenant was removed in 2004 which allowed the properties to be governed under the town’s current zoning laws which allow larger homes. This action was administered privately by the Sunburst property owners, absent from town hearings or proceedings.
Just as the golf course property owners have learned, covenants can serve as a protection or a barrier within the community with impacts and consequences. Throughout the years, the town has prided itself in working to resolve such issues. Prior to redevelopment of the gondola building in Lionshead, for example, covenants were removed at the request of the property owners to allow for construction of the Arrabelle at Vail Square by Vail Resorts Development Co. Similar measures were taken to enable construction of the underground parking garage at Founders Park on the east side of Vail Village. In another recent example, covenant protections were added to the Mountain Plaza area near Gondola One to preserve the area from future development, again at the request of the property owner and supported by the town.
While we applaud Vail’s founders for having the vision to introduce covenants and deed restrictions as early land use tools, interpretations and adaptations will continue to be explored to meet the evolving needs of a maturing community.
Andy Daly is the mayor of Vail.