Vail Town Council votes to condemn East Vail parcel
Elected officials say they’re still hopeful that a better solution can be found with Vail Resorts
VAIL — A housing proposal in East Vail has a long history of narrow decisions. Another came Tuesday, when the Vail Town Council voted 4-3 to start possible condemnation proceedings on the land.
Mayor Kim Langmaid, along with council members Jen Mason, Kevin Foley and Jonathan Staufer voted in favor of the resolution. Council members Travis Coggin, Pete Seibert and Barry Davis voted against the motion.
The resolution to begin the condemnation process followed an April announcement from Vail Resorts that it would build 165 beds of workforce housing on 5.4 acres of a 23.3-acre site it owns just north of the Interstate 70 East Vail Interchange. The remainder of the property in 2018 was put into the town’s “natural area preservation” zone district. That designation is among the town’s most restrictive.
Tuesday’s hearing filled the Council chambers at Vail Town Hall, with people overflowing into the hall outside and several community members weighing in via Zoom.
A large portion of the in-person crowd consisted of Vail Resorts employees and executives.
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It’s an approved project
Proponents cited the fact that the company has town approval to build workforce housing on the site. The company has pledged $17 million for project construction, along with $100,000 for habitat improvement aimed at preserving a herd of bighorn sheep that uses part of that parcel for critical winter range.
Project supporters noted there are a number of homes, as well as Vail Mountain School and Vail’s public works campus, also in the animals’ winter range.
But Brian Stockmar, a former Vail Town Council and Vail Planning and Environmental Commission member, said wildlife concerns aren’t the only problems with the project.
Stockmar noted that the planning board was promised, but never saw, studies on traffic, hydrology and rockfall for the parcel. Stockmar added that there’s limited pedestrian access under the I-70 underpass there.
But the sheep drew the most attention. Whether the project will or won’t affect the existing herd depends on what wildlife biologist is speaking.
Melanie Woolever is a biologist who worked with two other biologists on a 2019 study on the status of the herd in the area.
Woolever told Council members that the area proposed for development is part of the only winter range remaining for the animals, and that habitat improvement elsewhere won’t fix that problem.
Speaking on behalf of Vail Resorts and in support of mitigation efforts, biologist Marianne Batchelder said she believes fears of the herd’s demise are unfounded. The benefits of Vail Resorts’ mitigation plan outweigh the potential hazard of housing on the parcel, she said.
Getting VR’s attention?
After hearing from dozens of people about Vail’s critical need for housing and the need to preserve the parcel, council members gave their own opinions.
While he voted against the resolution to begin condemnation proceedings, Seibert said he believes the East Vail parcel isn’t as “shovel ready” as proponents claim, noting it could be at least six to eight months before construction starts. Seibert added his belief there are better options available.
Mason acknowledged that the town is in a “terrible” housing crisis, adding she hopes the town and Vail Resorts can use the “good faith” negotiation period called for in the resolution to come to some kind of agreement that won’t require the lengthy, and expensive, condemnation process.
Mason noted that it’s “interesting that it took the words ‘condemnation’ for you to come here. I’m so grateful we have your attention.”