Eagle County open space committee recommends $5M to help preserve East Vail parcel

County Commissioners will have the ultimate say-so

Eagle County has been asked to contribute $5 million in open space funds to help the town of Vail's proposed condemnation purchase of a 223-acre site in East Vail.
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Four facts
  • The town of Vail has condemned and has taken possession of a 23-acre parcel in East Vail
  • That parcel is currently owned by Vail Resorts
  • The town and resort company have put vastly different values on the land. Vail has proposed between  $11.1 million and $12.9 million; Vail Resorts values the property at $23 million.
  • The valuation panel — acting under the authority of District Court in Eagle — could issue a decision this week

The town of Vail’s efforts to preserve a large parcel in East Vail received a vote of confidence Monday from the Eagle County Open Space Advisory Committee.

That committee makes recommendations for funding, with final decisions up to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners. The commissioners will soon see a request from the town of Vail for $5 million in open space funding for the East Vail parcel.

The request is for help buying a 23-acre parcel owned by Vail Resorts that was awarded to the town in an earlier immediate possession hearing, with the value to be determined in a hearing that is slated to wrap Wednesday in District Court. At the conclusion of the hearing, a three-member commission will determine the “fair market value” of the parcel.

The proposal also includes placing a conservation easement on 123 acres of adjacent and nearby town-owned land

If the deal comes to fruition — depending in large part on the results of the valuation hearing — and the commissioners agree, the package will create more than 145 acres of protected land on the north side of Interstate 70 near the East Vail interchange.

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Vail Mayor Kim Langmaid gave committee members a quick history lesson about the parcel the town has condemned. But, she added, the town is looking to preserve a “landscape-level” piece of land, in large part for wildlife habitat.

The wildlife in question is a herd of bighorn sheep. That herd is native to the area — the only such herd in Eagle County — and winters north of the interstate.

The sheep won’t relocate

Local wildlife officer Devin Duval of Colorado Parks and Wildlife noted that the herd won’t go somewhere else if the private parcel is developed — it was approved in 2019 for workforce and free-market housing. Duval said the herd could ultimately vanish.

Duval called the sheep an “indicator species” for other wildlife in the area. The sheep have a “trickle-down effect” on overall ecosystem health, especially for ungulates — including deer and elk. In addition to the wildlife itself, Duval noted that there’s a “social expectation” to see wildlife in that area.

Langmaid told committee members that the East Vail parcel could be the “last-ever opportunity” for the county’s open space program to partner with the town on a big project.

Bill Andree for 38 years was the wildlife officer for the Vail area. Now retired, Andree said preserving the East Vail parcel could be one of the biggest gains for wildlife in the Gore Creek Valley.

Committee members generally favored the request, but had several questions, particularly regarding timing and the amount of the county’s contributions.

Committee member Josh Lautenberg said he felt “rushed” by the request.

“Are we bailing the town of Vail out?” Lautenberg asked.

Committee member Bret Hooper said he believed the committee should wait until the panel currently determining the value of the Vail Resorts parcel has made a decision. Hooper wondered if a special meeting could be called to send a solid recommendation to the commissioners.

Committee chair Bob Schultz noted that the board isn’t following its usual procedure regarding the town’s request.

Town vote set for Oct. 3

Still, he said “we want to be part of” a possible deal.

Langmaid noted that the Vail Town Council is set to vote Oct. 3 on appropriating money for the purchase. But, she added, “the sooner we know the better” regarding the county’s possible contribution.

Since questions remain about what price the valuation commission puts on the 23-acre parcel, committee members also debated how much that judicial decision could, or should, affect the county’s contribution.

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Committee member Bill Heicher proposed recommendation language in which no more than $5 million would be contributed to the town.

While the commissioners make the final decision, Heicher said he plans to attend the meeting at which that vote will be taken.

“I want the commissioners to know this is important,” he said.

The committee passed the recommendation on a 5-1 vote, with Schultz opposed. Lautenberg, participating by phone, didn’t vote due to technical difficulties.

The soonest the commissioners could vote would be the Sept. 19 meeting.

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