West Vail plans a guide to upgrade both residences and business property
The plan is seen as a way to guide development for years
A master plan isn’t legislation. It isn’t exactly a road map, either. So why is it a big deal that the Vail Town Council has approved a new master plan for West Vail?
The answer can be complex — more on that in a moment — but at its most basic, a master plan intends to guide future development to improve a community. And most who know the area agree that West Vail needs a redo.
West Vail was largely already built in unincorporated Eagle County before the town annexed the area in the 1980s. When that happened, the town imposed zoning on the commercial and residential areas that today gives little opportunity for improvement.
For instance, much of the area’s residential property is multifamily homes, either townhomes or condominiums. Under existing zoning, many of those units can only be rebuilt as duplex units. That means owners have essentially no incentive to rebuild, much less expand, say, a six-unit building to a 10-unit structure.
The same is true of West Vail’s commercial area. For instance, the new owners of West Vail’s only hotel, Highline, a Doubletree by Hilton, had to create a special zoning district before they could embark on an ambitious renovation plan. Creating what the town calls a Special Development District was needed, because the hotel itself didn’t comply with underlying zoning on the property.
With the plan passed, property owners will still have to request zoning changes, but the process is less complex than creating another Special Development District.
That will be important when five property owners in the West Vail commercial area decide to redevelop those parcels.
Vail Community Development Director Matt Gennett said he’s had frequent conversations with the new owners of the West Vail Mall.
The Kroenke family, which also owns the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Rams, now owns that property. While representatives of the owners wouldn’t talk on the record, Gennett said, they are “very excited” by the guidelines laid out in the plans. Gennett said that he’s had little contact with Safeway and Kroger, the two grocery chains operating in West Vail. Safeway owns its building, as does Kroger, although the City Market building is on town land.
Of the grocery store operators, Gennett said those companies will “have to get involved” as other owners decide to redevelop their property.
That redevelopment is foreseen a few ways. One scenario is essentially a spruce-up of what now exists in the area.
The other scenarios are more ambitious. One envisions as many as 300 new housing units, along with more pedestrian areas.
Aside from the guidelines for the commercial property, the plan also envisions making the area more accessible for cars, transit, cyclists and pedestrians.
There’s the prospect of a new roundabout, which would be at the western entrance to the West Vail Mall. If you’ve ever been to McDonald’s and tried to turn east onto North Frontage Road, you know a roundabout there could make getting out a lot easier.
The plan also calls for a transit hub and electric vehicle chargers. Another idea calls for a kind of “road diet” on that part of North Frontage Road, with a median separating eastbound and westbound traffic lanes.
North Frontage Road improvements will require involvement from several parties, including the Colorado Department of Transportation.
“It’s a big idea,” Gennett said.
Gennett said another big part of the plan extends to residential neighborhoods on both sides of Interstate 70. That area has hundreds of homes, virtually all of which are aging.
There are 151 units in the area behind the Highline alone, Gennett said. Only 54 units are allowed under existing zoning.
The goal, Gennett said, was no net loss of housing units. Beyond that, any additions will have to include at least some deed-restricted units.
Vail Town Council Member Jen Mason lives in the neighborhood. Mason said she would have liked requiring more deed restrictions for additional units.
“We need to maintain (the area) as a neighborhood where locals live,” Mason said.
That said, Mason said she doesn’t anticipate any major changes to the neighborhoods any time soon.
Paying for it
While property owners will have to pay for most of the anticipated changes, the town can contribute to improvements in several ways.
Gennett noted that the town could help create special districts that funnel increased sales taxes into improvements.
The Lionshead area is still operating with “tax increment financing” for new development. The system funnels all the increased property taxes from new development into a special district that can then spend money on improvements. That district, in Lionshead, is expected to collect another $30 million to $40 million in roughly the next decade. That money must be used to fund improvements in that area.
Transit improvements can tap into state and federal grants.
Gennett said the plan’s anticipated zoning changes can be initiated by either property owners or the town.
If the town starts rezoning, Gennett said it would be an involved public process that includes contacting property owners, organizing open houses and other meetings aimed at helping residents understand what’s being proposed.
Property owners who want better zoning for proposed projects will go through the town’s approval processes.
Whatever comes next, Mason said it’s long past time for updates in West Vail.
“We’ve got to do something,” Mason said, adding that for many people passing through, West Vail is their only impression of what’s supposed to be world-renowned resort town.
But, she added, West Vail is a residents’ neighborhood.
“We need to keep it that way,” she said.