East Vail parcel: What’s next for the developer, the town?
The Vail Planning and Zoning Commission, not council could have the final word
- The 23-acre parcel at East Vail is currently owned by Vail Resorts.
- Vail-based Triumph Development has a contract to purchase the property.
- Zoning on a 5.4 acre parcel calls for at least 70 percent deed-restricted workforce housing.
- The Vail Planning and Environmental Commission will have the first review if a plan for the property is submitted.
VAIL — After a Tuesday Vail Town Council vote, Triumph development is now pondering its next steps for the future of a 23.3-acre parcel in East Vail.
The council voted 4-3 Tuesday to delay approval of a proposal that would have resulted in town ownership of the parcel just north of the East Vail Interstate 70 interchange. The deal would also have resulted in a development with only deed-restricted housing units.
The motion, made by council member Kim Langmaid, delays approval of the deal pending project approval by the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission, as well as completion of environmental studies.
The council in 2017 approved re-zoning the parcel. Most of the parcel — 17.9 acres — is in the town’s “Natural Area Preservation” zone district. That’s one of the town’s most restrictive. The remaining 5.4 acres is in the “Housing” zone district, which requires deed-restricting at least 70 percent of all the approved square footage in a development.
According to Vail Housing Director George Ruther, the remaining 30 percent of the approved square footage could be any kind of housing type, sold at unrestricted market rates.
The proposed term sheet would have resulted in 100 percent deed restrictions on any development on the parcel, and permanent town ownership of the preserved part of the parcel.
That now looks unlikely to happen.
Council members Langmaid, Jen Mason, Kevin Foley and Mayor Dave Chapin voted to approve Langmaid’s motion after a lengthy public comment period. Council members heard passionate arguments both for and against the deal — and, by extension the thought of putting between 130 and 140 housing units on the currently open property.
Karen Hannah and her husband won a spot in the purchasing lottery for the Chamonix townhomes in West Vail. Hannah, who works for Vail Health, noted the difficulty of finding housing in Vail. Before landing in Chamonix, Hannah and her husband, who works for the Colorado Department of Transportation, had to move twice and spent a month in a hotel room.
“I’m here to put my name and face to the problem,” Hannah said, adding that if there had been housing in East Vail, that would have been a good choice for her and her husband.
Trent Olson used to live in Vail, but two years ago had to move his family into their pop-up camper for one summer month.
“This is about our front line (employees),” Olson said, adding that lack of good employees will affect guest service.
“Our tourists have a lot of choices,” he said.
But longtime resident Larry Stewart called the proposed land purchase “surreal.”
“You’re being asked to spend $4 million, that you don’t know where it’s coming from. … And we’re being told there’s no guarantee of approval,” he said.
Stewart and others noted that the town signing off on the term sheet would send a message to the town planning board to approve the proposal.
Resident Pam Stenmark asked the council to postpone a decision until more information was available.
During the council’s discussion, Foley said he was also concerned that signing the term sheet would prejudice the planning board’s deliberations.
Council member Jen Mason said she’s worried that the term sheet was “out of sequence” with the possible development of the parcel.
What zoning allows
Now, though, it looks like Triumph will proceed with a plan based on the parcel’s zoning.
“We need to move forward with something we can control,” Triumph Chief Operating Officer Michael O’Connor said right after the vote. That means using free-market housing to help cover the costs of building workforce housing.
Ruther said when Triumph does submit a development plan, it will be heard first by the planning board. That board, which meets at 1 p.m. on the second and fourth Mondays of every month, evaluates proposals’ compliance with the town’s zoning and environmental codes.
Given the town’s system of government, the planning board may have the last word.
Ruther said projects can be appealed to the town council by an applicant. A council majority can also require a council review of a planning board decision. Ruther noted that “aggrieved parties” can also appeal a planning board decision. But, he added, aggrieved parties have to meet specific criteria to force a council review.
But a special election isn’t an option to appeal any potential decision by the town.
Speaking to a capacity crowd Tuesday, Vail Town Attorney Matt Mire said “there’s no real legal opportunity” for a special election. While some residents have cited the special election following the council’s approval of the Solaris development in Vail Village, Mire said that was an attempt to reverse a council-passed ordinance, not a planning board decision.
So what’s next?
If Triumph submits a plan that’s 70 percent deed-restricted workforce housing, that percentage is based on square footage, not number of units. Ruther said that if there’s 100,000 square feet of residential space approved for a site, then 30,000 square feet can be built as free market housing.
That means, ultimately, less workforce housing.
Council member Jenn Bruno along with Greg Moffet and Travis Coggin voted against the delay. In a Wednesday telephone interview, Bruno said Triumph’s deal to buy the property from Vail Resorts includes a commitment to build 36 units of workforce housing for resort company employees.
Bruno questioned whether any other employees would benefit from whatever is ultimately built on the site.
And, Bruno said, that land will be developed.
“I think it’s a missed opportunity for the town,” she said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2930.
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.