Q&A: Vail Resorts’ East Vail housing rezoning proposal has first public hearing Sept. 11
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The Vail Planning and Environmental Commission will hold its first public hearing for a proposal to re-zone a Vail Resorts-owned parcel in East Vail. The meeting will be held Sept. 11 at Vail Town Hall and begins at 1 p.m.
VAIL — Vail Resorts recently announced a proposal to rezone a 23.3-acre parcel owned by the company. Rezoning land — changing its legal use — is always a big deal in Vail, especially when the land is undeveloped.
With that in mind, here’s a series of questions and answers about the property and the process.
Q: Where is this land?
A: The property is located directly north of Interstate 70 at the East Vail interchange. It’s adjacent to North Frontage Road and has easy access to the interstate and the town’s bus routes.
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Q: Are there neighbors?
A: The only adjacent neighbors live at The Falls at Vail townhomes. That property is essentially to the southeast of most of the Vail Resorts property. The Falls at Vail is bordered on two sides by the parcel, the portion proposed for rezoning as open space.
Q: What’s the proposal?
A: Right now, the only proposal is to rezone the property. The land now is in the town’s “two-family” zone district. That means only duplex homes could be built on it. Vail Resorts’ proposal is to split the property into two pieces, each with separate zoning.
A 5.4-acre parcel on the west side of the land would be zoned exclusively for deed-restricted employee housing. That’s the town’s most restrictive residential zoning.
The remaining 17.9 acres would be put under the town’s “natural preservation” zoning. That, too, is one of the most restrictive designations in Vail. If approved, then that part of the property could have trails but little else.
Q: What’s the schedule?
A: The rezoning proposal will have its first public hearing today with the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission. If that town board passes the proposal through in one meeting, then it could go to the Vail Town Council as soon as Sept. 19 for the first reading of an ordinance authorizing the rezoning.
If that ordinance is passed at its first meeting, then the ordinance could come to the council for a second reading as soon as Oct. 3.
Q: What’s the plan for housing?
A: There is no plan right now. According to Vail Resorts, the company will seek a development partner once the land is rezoned. That’s what the company did in Summit County at the Wintergreen Workforce Housing Community in Keystone. Gorman & Co. was the developer on that project.
Once a developer is selected, a plan for housing will be created and submitted to the town. That plan — which would include the number of units, rockfall mitigation plans, transportation plans, possible wildlife mitigation plans and the like — would have to be approved by the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission. Although the planning board can give final approval to noncontroversial building proposals, it’s a virtual certainty that the Vail Town Council will weigh in. Those hearings will be held in public.
If the plan is completed, then it will be part of a 2015 Vail Resorts announcement that it would dedicate $30 million to workforce housing in communities where it operates.
Q: How long has Vail Resorts owned that land?
A: The company has owned the property since 1961, back when Vail Resorts was Vail Associates, before the Vail ski area opened. Despite that long ownership, the property was misidentified as belonging to the Colorado Department of Transportation in Vail’s 1994 Comprehensive Open Lands Plan.
Speaking of that plan …
The parcel is identified in the Open Lands Plan. On the other hand, every vacant parcel in town at the time was identified in that plan.
The plan’s recommendation was to work a deal to acquire the land or trade development rights from that parcel to other land in town, with an eye toward using the parcel as open space.
While land use plans are valuable, those plans are advisory and don’t have the force of law.
Vail Community Development Department Director George Ruther said the original open lands plan, which is now being updated, “provides a framework for future policy.”
Ruther added that a lot of the town’s open space strategy has been guided by that plan over the past two decades. Still, a lot has changed in Vail since 1994.
“That’s the importance of keeping (plans) updated,” Ruther said, adding that changed circumstances can be reasons to deviate from a plan’s recommendations.
Q: What about wildlife?
A: The parcel has bighorn sheep and elk habitat.
According to a wildlife report by Rick Thompson of Western Ecosystems, a private wildlife consulting firm, housing on the western portion of the parcel “would result in a further loss of winter range, but its location in an area whose habitat effectiveness has been reduced by existing human disturbance, and development should not result in any measurable change in habitat use or herd size.”
The report further states that about 75 percent of the parcel would remain available for continued winter use by elk.
In an email, Mike Porras, of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, wrote that the department hasn’t done a formal study of the Vail Resorts parcel.
State wildlife officials are often asked about a possible development’s effects on wildlife. Porras wrote that Colorado Parks and Wildlife “only provides recommendations, not mandates,” in land use issues.
But, Porras added, state wildlife officials sometimes “work with landowners to set aside tracts of private land for the benefit of wildlife.” Those efforts, he wrote, have been an effective way to “ensure wildlife is provided with healthy habitat.”
There are no current wildlife-protection agreements on the East Vail parcel.
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.