Redesign of Vail Mountain base survives challenge
Despite a last-minute plea by Luanne Wells, a longtime Vail resident, the Vail Town Council on Tuesday – in its last major decision before a new council is sworn in next week – unanimously rejected her appeal of an earlier, decision by the town’s Planning and Environmental Commission recommending approval of the project.”Do a good job'”I feel very strongly about Vail. My family skies here; my children grew up skiing here,” Wells said. “Vail Resorts has done a wonderful job on the mountain. They need to do a good job on the entrance to the mountain, too.”Wells, who owns a condominium at One Vail Place – which looks out on the Vista Bahn ski yard and houses ticket offices and the Vail Ski School – made an impassioned plea for the council to consider putting the brakes on the approval process, saying the plan as is would drastically reduce the open space where the ski company plans to build a 4,400-square-foot skier-services facility.”They’re taking away the ski-race hill. We used to be able to watch the races. This is more of commercial venture, not a friendly one,” she said. “We believe Vail needs another entrance, and this entrance can be wonderful. The way it is, it’s not going to be.”I’d still like to work with (Vail Resorts) to find a solution,” Wells added.Surprise appearanceA 20-year Vail resident, Wells was not expected to attend Tuesday’s hearing, having unsuccessfully tried to have it continued until Dec. 2. due to “previously scheduled travel plans.” Her presence, along with an entourage that included her attorney, Andy Littman, was a sign she was pulling out all the stops in an effort to have both the skier-services building and an underground, 14-bay loading-and-delivery facility, redesigned.”I made the effort to come because it’s important,” she said. “Nobody in their right mind would put 14 bays at the base of the mountain. I guess economically, it’s the only way.”Littman followed with an exhaustive presentation that included arguments heard time and again by the planning commissioners, as well as some new ones. He has long alleged the plan, as adopted, does not meet requirements set forth in the Town Charter, nor does it comply with the Vail Village Master Plan.”What we’re asking is to not adopt this plan, but send it back to Vail Resorts and ask for a better one,” said Littman in a one-man show that lasted nearly 45 minutes. “There’s not a problem with postponing this. … We still have plenty of time to do this right.”Corporate teamWhat’s been called “Team Wells” was no match, however, for an even larger contingent representing the developer, Vail Resorts, led by attorney Jay Peterson of the Vail-based Bailey & Peterson, who said the appeal was full of “misleading information.””We’ve spent millions of dollars in this process trying to build a consensus, saying neighbors have the right (to be consulted),” Peterson said, adding opposition from other neighbors – including two others at One Vail Place – has never materialized. “But (the Wells team’s) tactics all along have been delay, delay, delay.”Tom Braun, a planner with Edwards-based Bai/Braun Associates, then proceeded to punch holes in Wells’ appeal, calling it “defective.” Arguments over the project’s affecting ski races, blocking a view corridor and using open space for commercial purposes were full of “gross misrepresentations, and had “no base in fact,” he said.”And the appellants say they want more studies,” Braun added. “We can’t figure out what they want.”Neighborly supportAdding to the support for the Front Door project included The Christiania Lodge on Hanson Ranch Road, the Squash Blossom Gallery on Gore Creek Drive, and the Lodge Tower on Vail Road.”The Lodge Tower is the most-affected by this project,” said Stan Cope, that lodge’s general manager. “This plan is a whole lot better than what we have now. We support this without a single negative vote from our homeowners.”Another persuasive argument came from Jim Lamont of the Vail Village Homeowners Associatian, who long has been working on solving Vail’s loading-and-delivery problems. He said the appeal had “no merit.””This project … has taken our attention for more than a decade. I think all the issues that could have been raised have been addressed,” Lamont said. “We urge you to sustain the PEC’s approval and move on toward development.”We cannot afford to fail,” Lamont added.In the end, with little discussion, the seven council members voted 7-0 to uphold the planning commission’s decision, sending the Front Door on to the next step of the process – approval by the Design Review Board – before it ever returns to the Town Council for a final review.”It makes me sad’Afterward, Wells expressed her disappointment.”Many people in Vail have supported me,” she said. “It makes me sad they did not come forward.”Littman, meanwhile, said it took a lot of courage for his client to stand before the council and “to raise serious and legitimate points” that “need to be considered” before the Front Door project breaks ground.And Lamont agreed, crediting Wells for her efforts and saying she has been “instrumental” in causing the town to adopt both a “comprehensive, dispersed” loading-and-delivery system and a streetscape plan for Vail Village – and fund it.”Not a win-lose situation'”This was not a win-lose situation. Her efforts yielded multi-million-dollar investments for improvements to the village,” Lamont said. “The Front Door remains open to continued dialogue in the process ahead.”Littman, meanwhile, said he’s weighing the options for continued opposition, much like Charles Lipcon, an attorney who owned a penthouse apartment next to the Vail Village Inn. Lipcon unsuccessfully sued the town in District Court after the council approved a plan to redevelop the lodge into a five-story hotel, the Vail Plaza, set for construction next year.”We’re exploring all options,” Littman said.