Appeal creaks through Front Door |

Appeal creaks through Front Door

Stephen Lloyd Wood

In a move not surprising to those close to Vail’s “Front Door,” a nearby neighbor perhaps has thrown in a stopper.

Luanne Wells, who lives at One Vail Place – which looks out on the Vista Bahn ski yard and houses ticket offices and the Vail Ski School – has appealed a recent decision by the town’s Planning and Environmental Commission to approve a $75 million project that would redevelop the main entrance from Vail, the town, to Vail, the ski mountain.

Citing the Town Charter, Wells, a 20-year Vail resident, explained in her appeal, filed last week with the Community Development Department, why she is an “aggrieved or adversely affected person.”

“This Charter is … fundamentally found in the belief that the quality of life of the people of Vail shall continue and be enhanced through progressive municipal government,” states her appeal, prepared by a local law firm. “This will be very disruptive of Mrs. Wells and other residents of One Vail Place.”

Five “failures’

The appeal listed five ways ways the commission “failed” to correctly apply criteria set forth in the Town Code, in the following ways:

– The design of the skier services building.

– The scrutinization of pedestrian and skier traffic in Vail Village and in the ski yard.

– The analysis of environmental impacts, mainly noise from loading and delivery operations.

– The analysis of costs vs. benefits.

– The analysis of a traffic study and management plan for loading and delivery.

“Ms. Wells as a landowner and the citizens of the town of Vail as a community are adversely impacted in a manner inconsistent with historical Town of Vail planning documents, applicable rules/regulations, and a healthy sense of development for the future of the town of Vail,” the appeal states.

Wells could not be reached for comment Monday.

Andrew Littman, Wells’ attorney, said he believes more issues will pop up as the project moves through the town’s approval process.

“Does Vail need a project? Yes, I think Vail does need trucks off the streets and have a new “Front Door,'” Littman said. “But is this the best way possible? It’s our view this project has been rushed.”

Seeking improved design

Just last week, with less than a month to go before the Nov. 4 elections – in which four seats on the Vail Town Council are up for grabs – the future of a project that would significantly change the way skiers and snowboarders travel from the town to the slopes appeared ready for the final step in the approval process. Several minor conditions still must be met – including the development of a management plan for an underground loading and delivery system servicing village businesses, much like Beaver Creek’s – before the developer, Vail Resorts Development Company, can move forward.

“Mrs. Wells is looking to help improve the transportation and design aspects of this project so it will work for the neighbors and the town. That’s our goal,” Littman said. “We hope Vail Resorts will sit down with her and look for solutions.”

Process takes time

Russell Forrest, director of Vail’s Community Development Department, said the Town Council now must look at the appeal and judge its merits, notifying nearby homeowners 15 days beforehand.

“We’d have to do a site visit in the afternoon; the council would hear the appeal in the evening,” Forrest said.

The council’s options, Forrest said, include: upholding the planning commissions decision; upholding the decision with conditions; or sending the entire project back to the planning commission.

Once the Front Door successfully emerges from the planning commission – which spent nine months reviewing the project – it then must undergo a similar process with Vail’s Design and Review Board. Only then would the Town Council begin its own study.

Last month, when planning commissioners voted to approve the Front Door project, they appeared confident the project would continue to move forward.

“What Vail Resorts has done in the past has benefitted all of us,” said Commissioner Chas Bernhardt. “They’re not going to shoot themselves in the foot now and ultimately it will benefit all of us.”

One big contingency

Meanwhile, the entire project is contingent upon another bureaucratic entanglement – the town of Vail’s attempts to annex a crucial, 3 acre piece of land next to the ski yard and south of the Lodge Tower that is owned by the U.S. Forest Service. The ski company is offering the Forest Service 136 acres on Vail Mountain, on South Game Creek near the Minturn Mile, and another 160 acres at Mud Springs, south of Arrowhead. The developable parcels are viewed as an equitable trade. The Game Creek property, for example, often has been eyed as a potential base facility for a lift connecting Minturn and Vail Mountain.

Even so, without any major legal battles, the Front Door project could be completed as early as Christmas 2006, the developer, Jack Hunn, president of Vail Resorts Development Company, has said. Hunn could not be reached for comment Monday.

Appeals not always appealing

By Stephen Lloyd Wood

The appeal filed against the Front Door Project by a nearby homeowner, Luanne Wells, is similar to an unsuccessful effort a year ago by homeowners of the Spraddle Creek neighborhood, who sought to block construction of the $23 million Middle Creek affordable apartment project.

The Spraddle Creek neighbors – including George Gillett, former owner of the Vail ski resort – alleged the housing project would depress property values and lower adjacent property owners’ quality of life, as well as lead to traffic and natural-hazard problems.

The same, seven-member Town Council rejected the appeal, upholding the planning commission’s approval in a set of three votes.

Referring to a then-recent jury verdict ordering a Vail property owner to pay $8 million in damages for delaying a new hotel development with a series of lawsuits, Town Councilman Greg Moffet told the appellants they should weigh their options carefully “so we don’t end up down in Eagle (County Court).”

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