Is Booth Heights parcel in East Vail worth $23 million?

Five-day valuation hearing between Vail and Vail Resorts kicks off Tuesday in Eagle County District Court

Bill Rock, the president of Vail Resorts' mountain division, provides testimony during the first day of the valuation hearing between the town of Vail and Vail Resorts. The hearing will determine what amount the town will have to pay to acquire the 23.3-acre East Vail site from the corporation.
Ali Longwell/Vail Daily

EAGLE — Will the town of Vail have to pay $11.1 million, $23.08 million, or somewhere between to purchase the East Vail parcel also known as Booth Heights from Vail Resorts? This is the determination that a three-person commission will determine over the course of a five-day valuation hearing that began Tuesday.

The proceedings between the town and Vail Resorts go back to May 2022 when the Town Council voted to condemn the site in order to preserve the parcel as open space for the area’s herd of bighorn sheep. The town filed a motion for immediate possession and petition in condemnation in the Eagle County District Court in October 2022 after Vail Resorts rejected its $12 million offer to purchase the site. The immediate possession trial took place in May 2023 with the judge granting the town this possession in June 2023.

Tuesday’s hearing began with opening arguments from both entities in which Vail Resorts’ legal team stated it would argue the 23-acre parcel is worth $23,080,400. The town’s representation stated it would argue it is worth between $11.1 million and $12.9 million.

Throughout the five-day hearing — scheduled from Sept. 5 to Sept. 8 with a final day scheduled on Sep. 13, if needed — both entities will present evidence and bring forth witnesses to support what they see as the value of the property. Vail and Vail Resorts will present their cases to a three-person commissioner panel, comprised of individuals with real estate and valuation experience, rather than to a judge.

“Do not concern yourself about whether the condemnation is proper or not. The court has already made this determination … You are to determine the reasonable market value of the subject property,” Chief Judge Paul Dunkelman directed the three commissioners before departing the courtroom for the day.

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The property in question is currently owned by Vail Resorts and is entitled for 61 units of housing, 30 of which are apartments and 19 that are townhomes. This includes 49 deed-restricted employee-housing units as well as 12 free-market townhomes. These housing units are contemplated for the 5.4 acres of the 23.3 total acres that are zoned for housing. The remaining 17.9 acres are zoned as Natural Area Preservation.

During their opening remarks, attorneys representing both entities provided an overview of their argument and defense.

“Your responsibility this week is to determine the amount that a willing buyer would pay to a willing seller for one of the few remaining sites within the town of Vail that is vacant, over 3 acres, and fully entitled for an employee housing project that is in extreme demand,” said Katharine McDermott in the opening remarks for Vail Resorts.

McDermott went on to state that the company’s determination that a “reasonable market value” for the parcel is just over $23 million is rooted in several factors including the issue of scarcity regarding available land for employee housing, geography, the time and money spent by Vail Resorts to get the parcel entitled, market conditions, as well as the cost it would take to get to parcel ready for development.

In her opening remarks for the town, Katharine Vera, posed the question: “Why is there such a dramatic difference between the town’s opinion of value and Vail Resorts’ opinion of value?”

Vera continued that in its argument, the town will argue that the corporation’s experts are “grossly overestimating the value of the subject property and underestimating the cost” of getting the property to a “ready-to-build state.”

She stated that the town’s determination of the “reasonable market value” for the property is based on the parcel’s highest and best use, its entitlements, its unique challenges and characteristics as well as its location in East Vail.

Over the course of the hearing, both sides will supply the commissioners with testimony and evidence to support their arguments. 

On the first day of the hearing, the commission heard testimony from the first of Vail Resorts’ witnesses. This included Bill Rock, the president of Vail Resorts’ mountain division, who provided testimony on the history of the parcel; Robert Pratt, from Demand Construction services, who testified about how he created cost estimates for bringing basic utilities and paved access to the parcel; and David Clayton, of Clayton and Company, who provided the beginning of his testimony on his appraisal for the site.

Clayton’s testimony will resume at the start of the hearing’s second day. Vail Resorts will also call another appraiser, Robert Noesner, to the stand. The town’s witness list, according to its opening remarks, will include K.C. Vigoren, a real estate appraisal manager; Tom Kassmel, the town’s engineer; Matt Gennett, the town’s community development director; and Charlie Hegarty, another appraisal specialist.

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After both parties present their evidence and witness testimonies — with both having the opportunity to cross-examine the others’ witnesses — and after the commission visits the parcel in question, the trial will conclude with closing arguments from both sides.

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