Fight over clubhouse builds
Ryan Summerlin August 9, 2013
Controversy continues to boil over the relocation of the 18th green and the redevelopment of the Vail Golf Course clubhouse to expand its ability to host commercial events, particularly weddings.
The town Planning and Environmental Commission placed further restrictions on the use of the commercial event facility in the hopes of limiting disruptive activities that are the source of objections from the surrounding neighborhood. Those property owners most immediately affected by the proposal filed suit in district court claiming covenant violations against the town of Vail after the Town Council rejected several compromises offered by representatives from the neighborhood nearly a year ago.
Is safety the real concern? The relocation of the 18th green is being pursued because of safety issues due to alleged hazards to the clubhouse’s outdoor event-dining terraces. This reasoning is not being embraced by many local golfers. The alleged safety problem is attributed to advances in golf club design that is causing the flight of golf balls from the adjacent driving range to sail over the top of nearby safety netting.
According to the town’s golf safety consultant, even if the height of the netting is substantially increased as planned, there were still be a danger of being struck by an errant golf ball for those using the clubhouse terraces and portions of the existing 18th fairway.
Many, however, see the safety issue as an after-the-fact attempt to justify using part of the current 18th hole location for new commercial outdoor events.
Protective covenants at issue: Of even more concern is the commercialization of the clubhouse by promoting it as a destination for weddings and other large functions. Those siding with the town say, “If this is a covenant violation, it has been going on for years with no complaints from the neighbors.” According to this line of reasoning, because there was no previous objection to these activities, the property owners have lost their covenant protections. The objecting property owners say they have complained to the town on many occasions, with no response. The town claims they have no records of those complaints.
This debate raises the more fundamental question of whether protective covenants can be waived by someone other than the makers of the covenant. In that respect, a recent affidavit has surfaced in which the original property owners vigorously supported the covenants. The document says the town’s proposed expanded uses for a commercial events center do not conform to the protective covenant that limits activities to a public golf course, park and open space.
Neighbors want protections in writing: Because of past abuses, the neighbors want written assurances that any compromise that may be acceptable to both the town and themselves will be legally enforceable by deed restrictions or other legal instruments. So far, the town has only offered a non-binding management agreement, which can be changed by a future Town Council.
The management agreement will also subject the neighborhood to the potential of having the peaceful enjoyment of their residences being disrupted nearly every weekend, especially in the summer, from weddings or other events.
Parking problems: Of equal concern is the inadequacy of parking for the commercial uses. Some are of the opinion that if the town wants an event center on the site, they should build a parking structure that aesthetically fits with the neighborhood to handle the demand for parking separate from the golfing function. Otherwise, critics say that there is the appearance that the town has jiggered the parking requirements to avoid doing what they would require of any private developer with a similar proposal elsewhere in the community.
Work about to start; injunction may follow: Reports have circulated that the town intends to demolish the clubhouse and begin the earthwork to change the configuration of the 18th hole this fall. The neighbors are prepared to file an injunction to stop construction.
It is befuddling to some how the town managed to take a simple request to replace the aging golf clubhouse with a new one and complicate it with the conflicting uses of a commercial event center specializing in weddings.
Perhaps, as others note, if the commercial events center does not comply with the intent of the covenants, despite the town’s claim of historic similar use, then there is no compromise to be reached because a new clubhouse could be built to serve its original purpose, serving the public golf course.
Then perhaps, by removing wedding and other event guests from the equation, town officials will come to understand that golfers see errant golf balls as an expected hazard of the sport, which is reason enough to leave the 18th hole where it is.