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Housing has been a problem for 30 years

Special to the Daily Voters shot down a proposal for parking and employee housing on the site of the current Lionshead garage in 1979. Now, a developer wants to build parking, homes and a lot more on the site.
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VAIL ” Businesses couldn’t find workers. More long-term rental housing was needed. There was a shortage of parking. Too many cars were on the frontage road on busy ski days.

A public-private plan was floated to build a parking garage in Lionshead with affordable housing. Councilmen, including Mayor Rod Slifer, fretted over the effect of construction on Lionshead businesses.

That was 1979. Or, it could be 2007.

The current proposal to rebuild the Lionshead parking garage has some similarities with an ill-fated 1979 plan, even if today’s plan is much greater in scale.

“The same headlines come up,” Slifer said. “It’s affordable housing, it’s parking. But it’s always the same issue. It’s always been the same issues since day one.”

And in 20 years, the town will still be dealing with the same issues, he said.

In 1979, parking, employee housing and stores were proposed for the Lionshead garage site. Vail Associates planned to build 100 employee-housing apartments and the town of Vail planned more than 1,000 parking spaces. A townwide vote against the employee housing component killed the project.

Now, there’s a $600 million plan for parking, condos, timeshares, a conference center and stores at the Lionshead structure, plus employee housing at Timber Ridge. The town is still negotiating with the Texas developer who wants to rebuilt the garage.

“We struggled with a lot of those same issues back then,” said Bill Wilto, who was a Vail Town Council member in 1979.

Wilto said he vaguely remembers that the housing component of the 1979 plan was controversial, perhaps because there was some distrust of Vail Associates at the time.

Nonetheless, Wilto said, the council did a lot to address employee housing, including building the Pitkin Creek apartments.

Slifer said residents didn’t think the town of Vail should be involved in building employee housing, and they didn’t like the location of the Lionshead garage for housing.

And some issues, like housing, become more urgent in cycles, Slifer said.

“Just a couple of years ago, there wasn’t much grumbling in the wintertime about housing,” he said.

Bob Ruder, who was a town councilman in 1979, said he didn’t remember the specific proposal. He sees the same issues coming up almost 30 years later, but senses carelessness in today’s decisions.

“I think that, with growth, we’re making a lot of mistakes,” he said.

Additional development is creating a need for more and more employee housing, he said.

Vail is growing a little too quickly, he said, adding that he opposes the proposal to rebuild the Lionshead parking structure.

He never imagined that there would be a proposal of this scale for the Lionshead parking structure, he said.

Rob LeVine, a longtime Vail businessman and a former councilman, said he never remembers the potential of a Lionshead garage redevelopment coming up while he was in office from 1989-1993.

But issues like parking, housing and a conference center have been constantly discussed, he said.

“Damn, if it wasn’t the same stuff we’re talking about today,” he said.

Those issues have often been framed in the context of growth, LeVine said.

“The underlying question of status quo and ‘I like things the way they are’ versus progress and ‘We need to improve things to stay competitive.'”

In 1979, the affordable housing at Lionshead garage was defeated by a vote of 152-143.

“We’re really missing an opportunity by not building the housing,” said Terry Minger, then town manager, in 1979. “The opportunity to get this type of cooperation from private business will probably never happen again.”

Perhaps this is Vail’s second chance for housing ” the group that wants to rebuild the Lionshead garage is offering to rebuild Timber Ridge at a cost of around $150 million.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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