Just the beginning
Last week I relayed some of the fireworks at the Jan. 2 Vail Town Council meeting.Vail Resorts Development Co. was in to pursue the annexation of their properties in West Lionshead into the Lionshead master plan, which would result in 200,000 feet of developable real estate. Preceding Tuesday’s discussion was a 6-1 green light from the town Planning and Environmental Commission, which didn’t make any demands on Vail Resorts for public benefits in exchange for up-zoning. The final approval landed with the Town Council. And for once , the council actually stood up against the ski company. Unfortunately, it wasn’t televised for the “folks at home,” as you’re often called. In case you haven’t followed this saga with rapt attention, I’ll recap. The ski company wants to redevelop West Lionshead, which is the area west of the Ritz Residences down to and including Cascade Crossing (aka Blockbuster building).Their proposal includes a lift, parking, retail, offices and residential. They do not expect the new lift to generate more business but rather redistribute current demand. Hold that thought, because we have also been told that the lift is key to the development. The translation here is that the lift is key to increasing the value of the developed real estate, keeping in mind that ski-in, ski-out properties rule the real estate market. And as I’ve said before, ski-in will not be available – yet. Ski-out is definitely part of the sales pitch, which of course equates to big dollars.But changing the uses on those sites is not a God-given right. It amounts to a gift. The general thinking is that if we give a gift, maybe we should get one in return.So one question raised two weeks ago, which supposedly surfaced in a grocery store check-out line, was “Why are you letting Vail Resorts build more condos? What are we getting for that?”Good questions. Even though the town manager has stated that this annexation doesn’t necessarily guarantee that rezoning will follow, precedent has been that will be the case surely as night follows day. So what are the issues? Unresolved housing for one. Vail Resorts is on the hook for 144 beds, with approximately 100 more in the wings.Then there’s parking. No mystery there. And Vail Resorts has acknowledged their role in the solution. With regard to West Lionshead, however, there’s some confusion. Four-hundred incremental new spaces, meaning those in excess of development requirements, is the number being thrown around. Yet no one knows where it came from. I asked six months ago and got no answer, but it’s still the number being used by Vail Resorts.Then there’s transportation. If the in town shuttle needs to expand, where will the money come from for that?As for the Lionshead parking structure, clearly Vail Resorts holds the cards. Nobody can do anything unless they give the OK. Quite frankly, even though they were accused of blackmailing the town into moving forward on West Lionshead in exchange for their sign-off on the parking structure, once again they have proved a point that I have made over and over. They’re always one step ahead of us, and they’re way smarter than we are in their negotiations. They always know what they want and where they’re going. We’ve never been able to figure that out, so we’re always playing catch-up.While I agree that at least these two projects, West Lionshead and the Lionshead parking structure, should be looked at together, by no means do I believe these are “the last two large developments that will be looked at by the town of Vail,” as indicated by one councilman.Get real. This is the beginning. They’re lining up. West Vail is poised to come in. And you’re reading it here. It’s only a matter of time before the Vail Village structure is on the table. With the Lionshead parking structure, we’re setting a precedent. The town’s land is up for grabs, provided you know the right buttons to push (aka, know the right people).So where are we? Here’s my take, for what it’s worth. I’m as critical as anyone of the ski company when they aren’t doing what I think they should. And while the town should have taken a stronger stand with Vail Resorts long before now, what went on that Tuesday was grandstanding, nothing more. I’m mystified why the Town Council, after years of back-pedaling, felt it necessary to attack right out of the box. It would seem that the first step should have been to simply ask the ski company for what the town wants and needs. Perhaps if they had asked and been told no, it would have been different. But to come out firing with both barrels before even asking the question was uncalled for.What would have been wrong with stating the requirements and saying they’re not negotiable? Wouldn’t it have been better to lay out the tit for tat and then stick to it?This poor Fernandez guy must have wondered what hit him in his first foray into town politics. He didn’t even know the reason for the assault. At this point, the town is between the proverbial rock and a hard place primarily because they have refused to step up to the plate before now. Consequently, they have a lot of problems to solve with not a lot of options available. And it has nothing to do with “feeling loved.” So they’ve come out swinging at the big guys. I’ve been told that if you aggravate a 1,000-pound gorilla it often gets mad. It’s not a fight I’d pick. But who knows, maybe they’ll get lucky this time. Based on history, somehow I doubt it. Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail email@example.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Commentary” or search for keyword “ferry.” Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.
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