"Front Door’ swings forward | VailDaily.com

"Front Door’ swings forward

Stephen Lloyd Wood
Special to the Daily/Vail ResortsVail's Front Door, known as the Vista Bahn "ski yard," significantly changes the way skiers and snowboarders interface with Vail Village and Vail Mountain. It's all contingent on approval by the Town Council, as well as a complicated land swap with the U.S. Forest Service.

A $75 million project to redevelop the main entrance from Vail the town to Vail the ski mountain took a significant step foreward Tuesday.

Without a dissenting vote, the town Planning and Environmental Commission approved the development plan for what’s known as “Vail’s Front Door,” where the Vista Bahn ski yard is today.

“We hope nine months spent on this have been well-spent and productive,” said John Schofield, chairman of the commission, before the final vote. “We’ve looked at more than enough (studies) to fill a hand-cart.”

Now, with less than two months to go before the Nov. 4 elections – in which four seats on the Vail Town Council are up for grabs – the future of a project that would significantly change the way skiers and snowboarders interface with the town and the slopes appears ready for the final step in the approval process.

Several minor conditions still must be met before the developer, Vail Resorts Development Company, can move forward – including the development of a management plan for an underground loading-and-delivery system servicing village businesses, much like Beaver Creek’s.

Recent changes in the original plan include a “world-class” skier-services building next to the Vista Bahn, the bottom of which would be moved slightly up the mountain.

“This is incredibly important, badly needed,” said Ron Riley, who owns the Bridge Street Lodge at the foot of the Vista Bahn, as well as several of the businesses inside. “For Vail being what it is, it’s lagging in certain kinds of categories, such as skier services.”

But Riley was most concerned about loading-and-delivery issues. Bringing vans and trucks to the same place skiers are trying to access the mountain would be putting “conflicting activities in the same place,” he said. He just wants to see the project be “workable and efficient.”

“Tweak’ to fit

Planning Commissioner Doug Cahill said the project would replace trucks in the streets and give the village back to pedestrians, much like Beaver Creek.

“I think with this proposal, it will only better what we have now,” he said. “It will have some tweaking – and, yes, we’re not Beaver Creek – but we’ll tweak this to fit Vail the best we can.”

Cahill then addressed a list of concerns painstakingly outlined by Andrew Littman, attorney representing Luanne Wells – a resident of One Vail Place, which overlooks the Vista Bahn – who has long said that approving the Front Door project would give Vail Resorts too much leverage in changing the nature of Vail Village.

Littman’s list included asking whether the project truly creates “a world-class arrival point and transition between Vail Village and Vail Mountain,” as outlined in the development plan itself.

“Are we safely and prudently, not knowing if this loading-and-delivery plan will work, (moving toward) a world-class plan to make our ski resort as attractive as any in the country?” Littman asked. “What’s it going to cost us to fix this if it doesn’t work?”

Littman also asked the planning commissioners if a cost-benefit analysis had been conducted for the project, drawing a sharp rebuke from Schofield.

“This is a no-brainer for the town,” Schofield said. “The applicant is going to build it and pay for it all. So, it’s astronomically in favor.”

Ironing out the dream

Jim Lamont, a former Vail planner and now executive director of the Vail Village Homeowners Association, has long been a supporter of the Front Door Project. He says it’s a good opportunity to update Vail’s loading and delivery system – a dream he’s had for 30 years. While several unresolved issues remain, he said he’s confident that the concerns expressed his association will be ironed out.

“We have full expectation our good-faith agreement, our covenants at both Vail Village and Lionshead, will be respected,” Lamont said.

One big contingency

By Stephen Lloyd Wood

The whole Front Door Project, as approved Monday by the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission, depends on the town being able to annex a crucial 3-acre piece of U.S. Forest Service land next to the ski yard and just south of the Lodge Tower.

The ski company is offering the Forest Service 136 acres on Vail Mountain, on South Game Creek near the Minturn Mile, and 160 acres at Mud Springs, south of Arrowhead.

The developable parcels are viewed as an equitable trade. The Game Creek property, for example, often has been seen as a potential base facility for a lift connecting Minturn and Vail Mountain.

“In a nutshell, the land swap now is slowing down the Front Door Project,” said Jack Hunn, president of Vail Resorts Development Company, after the commission’s vote of approval. “It’s going to take some time. We were hoping to make them separate decisions, but the Forest Service has told us they want to take action on both.”

Berry Sheakley, a lands forester with the Forest Service on whose desk the land swap ultimately will land, said Monday he’s only seen proposals in their preliminary stages and “a ton of work” still remains before any land exchanges will take place.

“Land exchanges aren’t done in months. Usually they take years. We’re just starting to tear into the process,” Sheakley said when pressed to predict how long the process could take. “How that relates relates to time, well, I’d rather bet the roulette wheel in Las Vegas.”

Despite the looming governmental process ahead, Hunn ventured to say the land swaps could be consummated in 10 to 12 months. The entire project, if ground is broken by the spring of 2005, could be completed by Christmas 2006, he added.

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