Vail Resorts’ East Vail zoning proposal puts housing needs and wildlife issues at odds |

Vail Resorts’ East Vail zoning proposal puts housing needs and wildlife issues at odds

Opponents of a plan to re-zone a now-vacant private parcel in East Vail say they're concerned about the effects of possible development on the small herd of bighorn sheep that winters in the area. This photo is from Rocky Mountain National Park.
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

What’s next?

Monday, Sept 25: Vail Planning and Environmental Commission will hear subdivision application.

Tuesday, Oct. 3: Vail Town Council will hold second-reading hearing on re-zoning ordinance.

TBD: A development plan application will be submitted to the planning board by Vail Resorts.

TBD: Vail Design Review Board will check that plan’s compliance with town design guidelines.

Source: Vail Community Development Department

VAIL — The Vail Town Council gave first approval on Tuesday, Sept. 19, to an ordinance rezoning a 23.3-acre parcel in East Vail. But that doesn’t mean anything will be built on the property.

Council members voted 5-2 — with Kim Langmaid and Jen Mason opposed — to rezone the property from its current zoning of “two-family residential” to a combination that would allow workforce housing and open space preservation. Another reading of the ordinance — set for Tuesday, Oct. 3 — is needed for final approval.

If approved, then the parcel will be split into two pieces. The western quarter of the parcel — 5.4 acres — would be zoned under the town’s housing designation. That zone district is one of the town’s most restrictive in terms of planning oversight and allows deed-restricted workforce housing.

The rest of the property — 17.4 acres — would be zoned under the town’s natural area preservation designation. That zoning is also among the town’s most restrictive, allowing little more than trails.

The proposal has drawn heated opposition and ardent support.

Can the Bighorn sheep be saved?

Opponents — many residents of nearby Booth Falls Road and others — are worried about parking and traffic. Others question why Vail Resorts is asking to rezone the land before submitting a development proposal, which is allowable under the town code.

But many, if not most, opponents have urged town officials to leave the property open for the benefit of a small herd of bighorn sheep that spends its winters on the property.

After a number of residents asked the council to help preserve the herd, Langmaid launched an impassioned defense of the bighorn sheep in the area, saying she believes that any development on the property could lead to the extinction of the herd.

“There’s only 7,000 bighorn across the state,” Langmaid said. “They’re in small, isolated herds.

“Every new lamb out there is critical. (The herd) won’t be able to handle two years of development and then human population.”

But supporters of the rezoning said housing in Vail is also a critical need.

Minturn resident Brian Eggleton works for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. He urged the council to rezone the property.

“We need more housing,” Eggleton said. “Where does it go?”

Another idea

East Vail resident Alan Danson has an idea of where to put more housing. Danson recently asked the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission to consider a plan to swap the Vail Resorts-owned land for a town-owned parcel west of the Middle Creek apartments.

Local architect Bill Pierce in the past several days helped Danson with some preliminary drawings for what housing could look like at that site.

That, though, isn’t what the council was considering.

Local planner Dominic Mauriello, who’s working for Vail Resorts on this project, told council members that rezoning the East Vail parcel wouldn’t necessarily preclude discussions about Danson’s idea.

During council deliberations, council member Dick Cleveland told the full meeting room that while housing is a critical need in town, “it doesn’t trump everything,” adding he was in agreement with Langmaid’s comments.

That said, through, Cleveland noted that the East Vail Parcel is private property and that property owners have rights. The council Tuesday needed to take the risk that a developer could create a development plan that would serve both nature and the community’s needs.

“This is going to be very challenging,” Cleveland said.

And there’s no doubt the parcel is private property. Although the property has been variously identified as belonging to the U.S. Forest Service or the Colorado Department of Transportation, the parcel was purchased by Vail Associates in 1961 and then annexed into the town in 1975. It was zoned for “two-family residential use” — duplex units, along with one employee unit per lot — in the late 1970s.

On the other hand, the parcel at some point fell off the county’s tax rolls. Eagle County Assessor Mark Chapin said the Vail Corp. — Vail Resorts — in June of this year filed a “quit claim” deed for the land, listing Vail Associates as the owner of record.

The land is now on the tax rolls, with Vail Resorts owing three years of property taxes on the parcel. That’s all state law allows.

“Nobody knew (Vail Resorts) owned it,” Chapin said. “The town and county didn’t know about it until this year. That stuff happens sometimes.”

For more details on the proposal, see:

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, and @scottnmiller.

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