Crossroads-style debate is nothing new
VAIL ” Rob Ford has a sense of deja vu.
The debate over how big the Crossroads building in Vail Village should be sounds a lot like discussions that went on when he was a Vail councilman, said Ford, who served on the Vail Town Council from 1995-1999.
“I would think that most everyone who’s served on council has had to deal with this special development district stuff,” he said.
Peter Knobel, the owner and developer of Crossroads, is seeking a special development district to build condos, a multi-screen movie theater, stores, restaurants, a bowling alley with an arcade and a plaza with an ice rink in winter and a fountain in the summer.
The special district can allow for greater size and bulk, but “benefits to the town” are supposed to offset advantages given to the developer, the town code says. For the Crossroads proposal, the benefits are the movie theater, the plaza, the bowling alley and the retail space.
Knobel’s proposal last year for the redevelopment of his Crossroads proposal launched a debate about whether it was too big and if it would benefit the public.
He pulled the proposal off the table in August after the council voted against it. Now, he’s resubmitted the redevelopment proposal, which the council could see by early next month. The new proposal has between 65 and 75 condos along with the other amenities.
“Public benefits” have evolved over the years, said Vail’s chief planner, Russell Forrest. In the ’70s and ’80s, an increase in height would often be offset by a smaller footprint on the site, he said. Through the late ’80s and ’90s, “public benefit” could mean landscaping and road improvements.
Recently, benefits have included public art, employee housing or bringing or keeping hotel rooms in Vail.
Ford said he’s seen an escalation in the use of special districts.
“Its use started to accelerate over the last 10 to 12 years because people were using it to bypass the zoning,” he said.
That trend was worrisome to residents during his council tenure, he said.
“How can people make investments in real estate if you can’t depend on existing zoning?” he said.
Ford said he saw similar debate when the Austria Haus hotel was demolished and rebuilt in 1997. The original proposal, under a special development district, was drastically scaled back before it was approved.
The project, which remained a special development district, eventually replaced 37 hotel rooms with 25 hotel rooms, 18 timeshares, 5,400 feet of shops, meeting rooms and a pool.
The original proposal included 44 hotel rooms, 24 timeshares and 5,000 feet of shops.
Ford said the council struck a balance between the developer’s desire to make a profit and making sure the height and mass were acceptable for the community.
“It was a home run for everybody,” he said.
Ludwig Kurz, a councilman from 1996 to 2004, said similar debate was going on when he was in office.
“It certainly has come up in the past when I was on council and even before then,” he said.
Early Vail developments like the Mountain Haus and the Lodge Tower set a precedent for size, and that has exacerbated the problem, Kurz said.
Those buildings, built between 1969-71, brought a huge negative reaction because of their bulk and size, said Jim Lamont, the town’s first director of community development.
Lamont is now the executive director of the Vail Village Homeowners Association.
The bulk of the Mountain Haus and the Lodge Tower led to the town enacting stricter building rules that sought to limit the size of buildings, Lamont said.
Kurz ” who has lived in Vail since 1966 ” also mentioned the Austria Haus as an example of the debate during his tenure. Another instance was the Lionshead redevelopment, which included the approval of the Lionshead master plan in 1998, he said. The plan sought to induce redevelopment in the area by giving developers incentives to rebuild.
Kurz said Vail is not going to look the same forever ” larger buildings may be inevitable.
“In terms to redevelop and make things fresh, I think some of what we have held near and dear needs to be changed somewhat and we need to allow for some things in the past that we may not have,” he said.
Kent Rose, a Vail councilman from 1983-1991, said he saw the same concern about size when the Sonnenalp Bavaria Haus came before him on council. The Bavaria Haus was demolished and rebuilt from 1991-93. It got reduced in size from the original proposal, Rose said.
“There’s always been that discussion,” he said.
Merv Lapin was a Vail councilman from 1987-95. He also owned the Crossroads building from 1972-85. He sees the debate going on today not just with Crossroads but also with the development of the Evergreen Lodge and the Four Seasons. When he was a councilman and previously on the planning board, it was Lionshead and the Lodge Tower that provoked debate.
Lionshead’s bulk is coming to Vail Village, he said.
“What’s happened is that all the things that were wrong in Lionshead are now being approved by council and the town of Vail,” he said.
Those “wrong” things include approving buildings that are too large, too dense and don’t have enough infrastructure for their size, he said.
When developers stand to make millions, they’re going to want to build large, Lapin said. But he fears Vail Village will become like Beaver Creek, where you can’t see the mountains, he said.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14623, or firstname.lastname@example.org.