"Bubble’ is down – but not dead | VailDaily.com

"Bubble’ is down – but not dead

Geraldine Haldner
Vail Daily fileThe $770,000, 27,000-square-foot, 35-foot-high Vail Ice Dome, commonly referred to as "the bubble,' has been the source of controversy since it first went up for the 2001-02 winter season. It's fate now is quite uncertain.

While neighbors seeking to deflate the temporary, $770,000 structure are continuing on with a 17-month-old lawsuit, town leaders say they are not ready to give up on bringing it back to the Vail Golf Course.

Vail Town Attorney Matt Mire, says there are several legal options – including rezoning – to allow for seasonal special use of the golf course’s driving range. A February ruling by County District Court Judge Richard Hart siding with the litigious neighbors, he says, is no indication the town’s case is weak.

“The judge did not say the rezoning or special-use permit were illegal,” Mire says. “He ruled that the town erred in the notification process. He did not comment on the substance of the case.”

“Parade of horribles’

If it’s back to court, Mire says, the town will argue that a contract covenant attached to the driving range’s parcel already protects the neighbors from a “parade of horribles,” such as parking lots, dairy farms or other permanent structures they fear the town would allow under general-use zoning, necessary for a seasonal structure like the bubble.

As restored by Judge Hart in February, however, the driving range is currently zoned “outdoor recreation.”

Mire says the covenant contract allows for parks, open space, outdoor recreation “and buildings incidental to parks and recreation.”

Vail attorney Art Abplanalp, who represents about 50 golf course neighbors, says his clients fear the town will use the rezoning to indeed meddle with the golf course’s future use, regardless of the covenant contract.

Abplanalp says his case would focus on the town violating the covenant, citing case law that allows for buildings “related to outdoor recreation.”

“The supreme court in this case said the installation of a type of building related to outdoor activities was acceptable, but not the installation of a building for an indoor activity. We believe the bubble clearly is a building housing an indoor type of recreation.”

What to do with “the bubble’

Now that the air is out of the bubble and the temporary ice rink has been disassembled, council members are preparing to weigh the pending lawsuit against the benefits of a second sheet of covered ice.

“It was used 14 hours a day from 9 a.m. to 10:30 at night, every day,” says Jim Heber of the Vail Recreation District, which runs the bubble on behalf of the town. “A lot of kids benefited from it, hockey players and figure skaters alike. We were able to add a couple new programs because of the extra ice and when we had a special events at Dobson we didn’t just displace everyone.”

Vail Town Councilwoman Diana Donovan, a proponent of an alternative sheet of ice at a time when Dobson was scheduled for renovation, says the town needs to weigh the needs of ice users in the Vail Valley against the wants of 50 homeowners.

“I don’t believe that there were numerous complaints against (the bubble),” she says. “I certainly got more phone calls in support of it than against it.”

Donovan says that is no argument to get rid of the bubble.

“We are in the guest business. If you come to Vail to use the bubble, you are a guest,” she says.

While most of the council members remain coy on what exactly they would like to see done with the bubble equipment six months from now, the sale of the equipment seems an unlikely choice.

“From what I understand, there is a significant portion of the community that would like to see it back were it was this past winter,” says Town Councilman Bill Jewitt, who was elected after the bubble’s approval.

“Ideally, we would like to find a location where we don’t have to worry every time that we take it down, whether we can put it back up. Where that is, I don’t know,” adds fellow-councilman Rod Slifer.

On May 7, the Town Council will consider what to do with the bubble’s $770,000 worth of wadded-up plastic, stacked-up boards and unplugged refrigeration units now stored in Vail and Edwards.

“There is no place big enough to put it other than the golf course, at least to my knowledge ” says Vail Town Manager Bob McLaurin, adding that the council may indeed direct him May 7 “to sell the whole thing.”

The plight of “the bubble’

– Officially known as the Vail Ice Dome, the 27,000-square-foot, 35-foot-high, inflated temporary structure has also been called “a white, stranded whale” by Vail Attorney Art Abplanalp, who represents a group of approximately 50 homeowners fighting the seasonal structure on the golf course’s driving range. They say that the bubble represents an undue burden on their lives – and that the town disregarded their concerns during the approval process of the $770,000 project two winters ago. They also say they fear an underlying zoning change sets a precedent that would allow for other buildings to be built on the open range.

– The town celebrated an early legal victory in December of 2000 when Eagle County District Court Judge Richard Hart refused to issue a temporary restraining order against a six-month trial run for the bubble, saying he could not find a reason to stop the seasonal structure from being erected in accordance with a two-year special-use permit that would expire in April of 2002.

– In February, however, the judge sided with the neighbors, ruling that the town had made too many mistakes in the public notification process to allow for a zoning change and special-use permit necessary to allow for the bubble to go up.

– Hart declared the special-use permit and the zoning change invalid and ordered the bubble removed.

– The Feb. 22 ruling, however, came at a time when the bubble’s permits were expiring anyway, rendering the judge’s opinion largely moot and without any negative consequences for the town.

Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 602 or at ghaldner@vaildaily.com

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