Biologists roundtable will help steer wildlife mitigation plan for Booth Heights proposal
Commission won't sign off on East Vail development until a new mitigation plan is presented
VAIL — Some feel the proposed development of 73 residential units in East Vail near an area sensitive to bighorn sheep populations is inevitable, but on Monday, members of the town’s planning and environmental commission assured residents they have not yet made up their minds about the project.
While a portion of the property is already zoned for housing, the commission can regulate the project density and site plan, requiring the developer to work with the town on the details of the proposal.
“That is the structure which we have to operate, and which we are operating,” said commissioner Karen Marie Perez. “We have a charge to follow the town code.”
The commission members made it clear on Monday that they’re not ready to sign off on the plan as presented, but they did indicate some hopefulness that a recent meeting — and a follow-up tentatively planned for this week — of biologists, the town and the developer, may lead to a plan that could find support on the commission.
Referred to as a “biologists roundtable,” the meeting took place on Friday and was held in an effort to find some common ground between a wildlife mitigation plan suggested by Triumph Development’s wildlife expert and plans suggested by other wildlife experts contracted by the town.
Vail Community Development Department Director Matt Gennett said the three wildlife biologists that the town received reports from, along with representatives from the town, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the developer, met at the site of the proposed development on Friday and followed that up with a meeting that lasted about three and a half hours.
“A lot of it was coming to terms on short-term and long-term strategies,” Gennett said, adding that a summary of that meeting will be available in the packet for the commission’s Aug. 12 meeting.
“The meeting went very well,” said Michael O’Connor, with Triumph Development. “I only wished it could have happened in March.”
The most recent incarnation of Triumph’s wildlife mitigation plan was presented to the commission in May.
“We’re going to be back to you all I believe, kind of in partnership with (town of Vail) staff, with the big picture, from a mitigation standpoint, of what can we do to improve what we’ve already proposed,” O’Connor said.
While the term “wildlife mitigation” refers to the efforts that will take place to reduce the impact to wildlife created by human activity, former Colorado Parks and Wildlife manager Bill Andree says oftentimes, if wildlife mitigation efforts are planned for an area, it’s the wildlife itself that will soon be reduced there.
“Many mitigation plans are total failures,” Andree said.
Nevertheless, “I’m happy to hear there was a meeting,” Andree said, in reference to Friday’s biologist roundtable. “I’m excited to hear what they came up with.”
Andree was one of nearly two dozen community members to speak on Monday; all who spoke objected to portions of the plan, most against the entire plan itself. Many speakers took a personal touch in their pleas to the commission.
Vail resident Jeff Kissane said he doesn’t envy the commission’s position, having to decide between the town’s desire to protect the environment and the town’s stated goal of providing more workforce housing.
“I have empathy and sympathy for both sides,” Kissane said. “But I think all this really boils down to, very simply, is the environment for the bighorn sheep. I don’t see that there’s any other environment for them here, so we’re taking their only environment, and I don’t see anything saying that there isn’t going to be a negative impact on the bighorn sheep; they’re gonna go away. So it really just comes down to — do you care about the sheep, or not?”
That question was echoed by similar questions, phrased personally, to the commissioners themselves from members of the community.
“Are you comfortable with the consequences?” Grace Poganski asked commissioners.
“Do you want your name on the next major scar?” asked Pam Stenmark.
“If you say yes to this project, despite the certain environmental losses … what would you ever say no to on an environmental basis?” asked Pete Feistmann.
A modest proposal
Vail native Jonathan Staufer presented an idea that would put a stop to the development.
Staufer said he had garnered more than 1,000 signatures on a call for the town of Vail to permanently acquire and permanently protect the parcel, “on behalf of Colorado’s state animal, the bighorn sheep.”
Staufer said the housing crisis will be solved if Vail “screws up the natural beauty of this town” to the point where the demand to visit declines.
“We can achieve that goal by approving projects like this one,” Staufer said.
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