Vail Homeowners: Environmental questions with Vail Resorts’ housing proposal (column) | VailDaily.com

Vail Homeowners: Environmental questions with Vail Resorts’ housing proposal (column)

Vail Homeowners Association
Valley Voices

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from a report by the Vail Homeowners Association board of directors. The association keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the Vail community. The electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com and http://www.vaildaily.com.

Two weeks ago, the Vail Homeowners Association reported on Vail Resorts' application to subdivide and rezone 23.3 acres of its East Vail property to create a housing project on the western 5.4 acres of that property. There are substantial reasons to believe that development of the property will have a major impact on wildlife habitat and migration corridors. Vail Homeowners Association believes these are issues that could be the first test of Vail's recent designation as America's first environmentally sustainable destination resort.

Correction: Before getting to the environmental and geological issues, a correction to the original report, published Saturday, Aug. 19, in the Vail Daily, is in order. In that report, based on what we considered to be a reputable source, the Vail Homeowners Association stated that it had been informed that Vail Resorts intended to build a large-scale, Middle Creek type, project on the order of 300 units and five to six stories high.

Vail Resorts has, however, emphatically stated that it has no present plans for development of the property and that it will not make any plans until after it has obtained rezoning of the property. Vail Homeowners Association's mission is to protect the quality of life in Vail, which is contingent upon knowing the impact that any new development will have upon wildlife, the environment and the people in our community.

Sometimes, we do not receive correct information. We regret that our initial reporting was, therefore, inaccurate.

• Open-space land: Currently, the entire 23.3-acre tract is in a natural state, covered mostly by pristine aspen forest. That tract was identified by the town of Vail as open space land in the 1994 Vail Comprehensive Open Lands Plan, wherein it was designated a "high priority" for "environmental protection (as) open space." Recently, in the current run-up to amendments to that plan, the public reaffirmed that "priority" was to be given to the "protection of environmentally sensitive areas open space preservation."

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Zoning is not just a matter of regulating land use. It also creates vested rights in the property owner. For example, if Vail Resorts were to obtain a housing classification for the property in question, then Vail Resorts would acquire a vested right to develop the land for that purpose. While the town of Vail could regulate the size and extent of any development, it could no longer prevent the property from being developed for that purpose. And, since "H" (Housing) zoning has few restraints, any resulting development could be quite large.

• Vail Resorts' wildlife assessment: Although Vail Resorts would prefer postponing any wildlife considerations until it submits development plans, it did file a wildlife assessment in support of its rezoning request, which concluded that development of the 5.4 acres should not result in any measurable change in bighorn sheep or elk habitat use or herd size.

The bulk of the report relies on data from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. As that data shows, development on the 5.4-acre parcel would impact bighorn sheep range, habitat and lambing areas; elk winter range; peregrine falcon nesting and hunting areas and black bear summer forage habitat. Although not discussed, it follows that development will, also, impact smaller animals and other fauna.

This is a conclusion that Colorado Parks and Wildlife and scientific literature support. As reported by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, bighorn sheep, elk and deer have been on the decline in the Gore Valley for at least the past decade, and wildlife populations, in general, are not sustainable under current conditions. The loss of more critical habitat would only exacerbate the situation.

And it is not just the immediate property that is affected, as there is a "zone of influence" that extends the impact of development outward for some distance in all directions. That impact could be quite substantial if this is a large-scale project that completely fills the 5.4 acres, as that would require clear-cutting of thousands of trees and massive earth movement so that the effects of that development would be at the extreme.

The Vail Resorts wildlife report, nonetheless, concludes that rezoning would have no effect on wildlife, even though it is the first step in development, i.e., giving Vail Resorts a vested right to develop the property. But this is parsing the difference between zoning and development as though one does not lead inevitably to the other, just like night follows day.

The Vail Homeowners Association's conclusion is that rezoning would set in motion a process that could lead to the destruction of wildlife habitat and migration corridors, with the degree of impact directly related to the size of development.

The Vail Homeowners Association board is Gail Ellis, president; and directors Judith Berkowitz, John Gorsuch, John Lohre, Andres Nevares, Trygve Myhren, Larry Stewart and Doug Tansill.

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