Lionshead redesign entering legal thicket
Vail is getting closer to pulling the trigger on $40 million in public improvements in Lionshead and town leaders next month will consider a plan for the area that includes financing and “friendly” condemnation.
As they are deliberating, the Town Council will be keeping one eye on the state Legislature, which is considering two bills that could affect how that redevelopment occurs.
Those bills were generated by public outcry over a redevelopment proposal that included an “unfriendly” condemnation and demolition of a retail shopping center in Arvada to make way for a new Wal-Mart.
If the bills pass, they could restrict or prevent Vail’s version of an urban renewal authority – the Vail Reinvestment Authority – from pursuing its plans in Lionshead. But Vail has been assured by Rep. Carl Miller, D- Leadville, who represents Eagle County, that the legislation will be amended so it will not affect Vail’s redevelopment plans in Lionshead, said Suzanne Silverthorn, the town’s community relations director.
“He’s committed to making sure whatever comes out of legislation in his committee will not jeopardize work we are trying to do for the redevelopment of Lionshead,” she said.
Redevelopment in Lionshead, envisioned to take place from 2005 through 2007, will be a public/private venture with the town footing $40 million of the $400 million in improvements and Vail Resorts spending $350 million. The ski company will build 479 new lodge units, an outdoor ice rink and an additional 30,000 square-feet of commercial and restaurant space after demolishing the old gondola building.
The town’s part of the redevelopment will include acceleration and deceleration lanes on the South Frontage Road; pedestrian improvements including enhanced lighting, landscaping and snowmelt systems on the Lionshead mall; and creation of a transit center and skier drop-off facilities.
The improvements are part of what’s called the Lionshead Master Plan.
The public portion of the improvements will be funded in part by tax increment financing, or TIF, which is a funding mechanism that uses the increase in taxes generated by redevelopment and the increased property values to pay for construction. It does not require a tax increase, and is expected to generate $10 million that can be used as seed money for part of the town’s portion of the project, Vail Town Manager Stan Zemler said.
But one potential stumbling block to Vail Resorts’ redevelopment plans is a series of covenants put in place before Lionshead was part of the town and covered by its zoning laws. The covenants can prevent certain aspects of redevelopment, but can be removed if the property owner, Vail Resorts, requests that the town engages in a “friendly” condemnation” of the property then reconveys it to Vail Resorts, said Russell Forrest, community development director.
Forrest said the thicket of covenants cover dozens of parcels in Lionshead.
Restrictive covenants on a parcel in Vail Village immediately north of the Christiana Lodge preclude the underground parking structure being built there, Forrest said. But the town has already approved the garage and will remove those covenants by friendly condemnation and reconveyance to Vail Resorts.
It was full-time Vail government watchdog and homeowners’ advocate Jim Lamont who convinced the town to draft its condemnation powers by providing only for friendly actions.
“He perceived this would be an issue months ago,” Silverthorn said. “Allowing friendly condemnation and no adverse condemnation was absolutely the right thing to do.”
The Vail Planning and Environmental Commission will consider the development plan at a meeting today.
Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.