Front Door swap flap headed to court
VAIL ” The fight against the Vail Front Door land swap will likely continue in federal court, even after the denial of an appeal earlier this month.
A federal court filing could leave in limbo the planned makeover of Vail Village’s base area, which was supposed to start this spring.
In the swap, Vail Resorts gets a 5-acre piece of land near the base of the Vista Bahn at Vail Mountain. The land is part of Vail Resorts’ Front Door project, which includes townhomes, a skier services building, a private club and a plaza.
The Forest Service would get 610 acres in two parcels ” land near Vail Mountain’s Game Creek Bowl and the Vassar Meadows wetlands south of Eagle.
Bradley J. Haight, an attorney for Vail resident Luanne Wells and a California-based group called Environmental Advocates ” which both oppose the swap ” said a complaint will probably be filed in Denver’s U.S. District Court next week. Earlier this month, the U.S. Forest Service rejected an appeal of the land swap.
The swap can officially occur three weeks after the April 5 appeals decision, said Steve Rinella of the Forest Service in Lakewood. The swap can proceed even with a federal court filing, Rinella said.
“Absent a restraining order, theoretically there is nothing that would prevent us from closing” on the exchange after the three-week period, Rinella said.
Haight said he could try to stop the swap by filing a motion with the court.
Wells and Environmental Advocates say the Forest Service’s appraisal of the land at the base of the mountain was undervalued. The Forest Service said the land at the base of Vail Mountain is worth $5.6 million, but Wells has said her own appraisal shows the land is worth just over $50 million.
“We think it’s just not tenable that 5 acres of land in the heart of Vail Village have a value of $1 million per acre,” Haight said.
Construction of the Front Door project was supposed to start this spring. There is now no timeline for the project, said Paul Witt, spokesman for Vail Resorts Development Company.
Vail Resorts has begun the process to annex the Front Door parcel into the town of Vail. The annexation would provide the project with water and sewer service and allow the project to get building approval from the town, Witt said.
The swap can’t happen until Vail Resorts closes on the land, said Matt Mire, the town’s attorney.
In upholding the decision on appeal, the Forest Service said Wells’ appraisal didn’t follow Forest Service rules and used “assumptions and hypothetical conditions.” The appeal also provided property values for other properties in Vail Village, but the Forest Service said the listings don’t prove the Forest Service’s appraisal needs to be reconsidered.
Chris Krupp, an attorney with Western Lands Project, a Seattle-based group that monitors land exchanges, said under-appraisal is a regular issue that comes up in exchanges.
“The appraisal process is extremely subjective,” he said.
The Vassar Meadows wetlands are the right type of the land the Forest Service should be pursuing in land swaps, he said. But the South Game Creek land, near the boundary of the ski resort, is less desirable because it could be used by skiers, he said.
“If Vail expands, all of a sudden that’s part of a ski area,” he said.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14623, or email@example.com.