Vail Daily column: Stand by our town’s principles
December 1, 2016
I was shocked by the headline in the Nov. 20 issue: “Town of Vail officials tour nearby federal lands which council could use for housing.” A land exchange company has already been hired and have already selected United States Forest Service parcels bordering Vail that are “suitable” for affordable and employee housing.
This flies in the face of 50 years of town of Vail planning and the town’s basic principles and laws.
If the town can acquire federal lands, thus setting a precedent, then so can almost anyone else. There is money to be made in employee housing. Development along our existing boundaries and up the hillsides will destroy the very asset that makes Vail a successful, unique community and resort. The feds would love to sell the land around Vail that is not designated wilderness because it would be valued at Vail land values. It would be a welcomed windfall for them.
As a member of town boards, I took part in writing legislation to clean up and secure town boundaries by controlling access to federal lands and therefore, preventing development on possible land exchange parcels. It is disappointing that town staff and some council members think it is worth looking at as a possibility for the development of housing. This alternative would have been shut down if there had been a true public hearing such as an open house which invites public input. A couple of the people pushing this know that. The county housing ballot question was rejected by 54 percent in Vail. I find it interesting that Vail employee housing is not limited to those employed in Vail but to any employees within Eagle County even though Vail is a narrow valley with limited and, therefore, the most expensive land.
Our zoned and dedicated open spaces in Vail are planned and not accidental leftovers. They buffer neighborhoods and are important components of those neighborhoods. Open spaces visually give an impression of less density in our built environment. They add dollar value to adjoining properties which have a legal right to that expectation. Most open spaces in Vail are restricted in allowed uses by virtue of being bought with restricted sales tax and the Real Estate Transfer Tax. Changing that law piecemeal does not change the fact that parcels were bought with restricted funds. There is a huge issue of promises made to Vail’s entire citizenry during the past 50 years. To blow that off shows a lack of integrity. The town has always backed down when threatened with a lawsuit on this issue. All of Donovan Park falls into this category. To develop one parcel of restricted open space sets a precedent for developing others at will. Donovan Park was not acquired for land banking.
I participated in the writing of most of our regulations, laws and zoning. They were written not for the present but especially for the future. They were not meant to be reviewed, changed or updated to accommodate singular projects. We knew success could mean the undoing of Vail and its uniqueness. We saw it starting to happen so we wrote laws to protect Vail’s future for a very long time. Staff members must defend rules and inform others of the original intent so that council decisions are informed and not manipulated as so often happens of late.
Once again the council is being pushed by the council minority with backing from staff. Initial studies have been completed and recommendations made and adopted with little in depth discussion on council or with the public. Consultants are hired and recommendations from experts outlining ways to skirt laws and regulations have been made and still no request for public input, discussion or feedback such as happens at an open house. Property owners adjacent to the parcels being discussed for development have not been included.
All ideas must be explored, on private lands only, for employee and affordable housing: double and triple density at Timber Ridge and include structured parking; increase housing at Public Works and other town housing when appropriate; design a condo project to be built, owned and managed by Vail small businesses for their employees; increase employee housing requirements for all commercial projects; require caretaker units on homes of more than 8,000 square feet; work with the county to buy private land for affordable housing; include housing in all town buildings; acquire existing units and protect affordable use with deed restrictions. I am sure there are many other out-of-the-box approaches. There are also unintended consequences of the council’s affordable housing goals. A realistic discussion needs to take place regarding this.
We can not allow changes in land use in Vail for our open spaces and adjoining federal lands. We cannot allow the very principles that have made Vail a success to be abandoned.
This project is well on its way, so act now. Contact the Town Council at email@example.com. That will reach everyone, or call individuals on their personal phones or text. They appreciate respectful, informed input.
Diana Donovan has lived in Vail since 1965. She has served on the Vail Town Council and several other town boards.