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Middle Creek faces uphill battle

Geraldine Haldner

The former owner of ski resorts at Vail and Beaver Creek joined more than two dozen local business and property owners Monday in voicing his objection to a major housing development in Vail.”This is not a “NIMBY’ (not in my back yard) effort,” Gillett said. “I would call it a “NIVFY’ effort – not in Vail’s front yard.”Contrary to public perception, Vail’s well-off property owners were simply concerned with a project that would alter Vail’s face forever, said Gillett, who owns a home at Spraddle Creek.Gillett and more than 30 nearby homeowners sat patiently through three hours of unrelated PEC business before making their opinions known. They said Middle Creek, described by the developer as “European Alpine Village” in style, isn’t concealing enough at its prominent location just east of the Mountain Bell tower.Gillett, a multi-millionaire who owns the National Hockey League’s Montreal Canadiens, said the economics of the project do not add up to being affordable at rents ranging from $540 for a studio to $1,750 for a three-bedroom apartment. Instead, he proposed the town either return to the original plan calling for a less-dense project that could be purchased by town employers for their employees, or sell the parcel altogether. After being rezoned for dense housing, Gillett said, it could be worth as much as $6 million.Gillett proposed strong-arming Vail Resorts into letting the town build affordable housing on one of its Lionshead properties, or even investigating land-trade opportunities with the U.S. Forest Service.”That all has not been explored,” he said, adding that the housing authority has failed to show the need for this kind of housing in Vail.Gillett dismissed a three-year-old, countywide housing needs assessment, as outdated in view of the recent economic downturn and effects of Sept. 11, saying rental properties he owns have gone vacant since last winter.Gillett was joined by Alan Kosloff, president of the Vail Village Homeowners Association, who said location was his main concern.”We are not against employee housing, we just don’t like it to be on our Fifth Avenue, because it is our Fifth Avenue.”Vail businessman Merv Lapin, a former town councilman, said the site was never meant for such a massive project. He said the consequences on its surroundings would be regrettable.”We opted to not go ahead with the project we had, but it was a mere 40 units on the site,” he said.Lapin and others also said a massive two- to eight-story complex of eight buildings perched atop structured parking would irreversibly alter Vail’s facade.”The impact would be negative on traffic and the Spraddle Creek residents,” Lapin said of the only neighborhood nearby, one of up-scale, single homes high on the hill east of the proposed development.Peter Franke said the project – even in a revamped, contracted version, that disturbs less of the natural vegetation – is an atrocity.”I do not see the necessity for such a large project,” he said, adding that he counted 242 advertisements for rental units in Monday’s Vail Daily.”I think it is a monster; it is much too big,” he said.Judy Berkowitz, a second-home owner from New York City, said she took a walk up Vail Mountain after hearing of the town’s plans to develop the parcel.”We’ve sunk our roots in here and love it so much,” she said, “because of the beauty and the atmosphere of the green space.”As much as $15 million in public funding has been awarded to the project, which the town is subsidizing with a free, 50-year lease.Middle Creek was identified as the town’s primary site for affordable housing nearly two years ago. The council revived the Local Vail Housing Authority and charged its five-member board with bringing affordable housing to the Middle Creek site. Following an order to go back to the drawing board, the developer, Mike Coughlin of the Denver-based Coughlin & Company, now estimates the project will cost $23 million to build.Coughlin also plans to run the rental complex if it is built. He said he hopes to have the project approved by fall and built by Christmas 2003.The lone voice of support Monday came from Mark Gordon, who told the commissioners the opponents’ criticism was short-sighted.”The vast majority of these people don’t speak for me,” Gordon said.Instead of worrying about what visitors’ first impression of Vail, he said, the Middle Creek development to him “would say we are a community and we care about the people who live here.”From what I see,” he added, “despite their proclaimed love for Vail, they would rather see Vail run as a sort of Disneyland, erasing any remaining vestige of Vail as a community as opposed to a resort.”Geraldine Haldner can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 602 or at ghaldner@vaildaily.com.


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