Solaris wins in landslide
VAIL ” Build Solaris, Vail voters said overwhelmingly Tuesday.
Voters approved the Crossroads proposal with 70 percent of voters casting ballots in favor of the project.
“I’m just ecstatic that so many people came out and voted either way for the project,” said Solaris developer Peter Knobel.
The election ” with Crossroads as the only item ” had the highest turnout for any Vail municipal election, with 1,577 voters or 39 percent of the electorate.
The proposal includes 69 condos, a three-screen movie theater, a 10-lane bowling alley, an ice rink/public plaza, stores and restaurants.
“I think it’ll really bring energy back to Vail, and it’ll give things for families to do,” Knobel said.
The proposal was first submitted to the town 23 months ago and was approved by the Town Council by a 4-3 vote on March 21. But opponents gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on the proposal. Tuesday’s vote upholds the council’s decision.
Demolition of the aging Crossroads building, built in 1968, is supposed to start after next ski season with completion of Solaris planned for summer 2009.
“I think that it’s my job now to build such a great project that the 467 people that voted against it say, ‘What’s the big deal?'” he said.
Supporters say the project will bring life back to Vail Village. Joe Curtes, a 15-year Vail resident, said Solaris is going to be “insane.”
“It’s going to make Vail a better place, a cooler place in the long run,” he said.
Councilman Mark Gordon, who voted in favor of Solaris, said he feels validated.
“The people who have their fingers on the pulse of this town were the four who voted for Crossroads,” he said.
Greg Moffet, another councilman who voted for the proposal, said the vote confirms the results of the last election, which saw two opponents to Crossroads proposals ” Diana Donovan and Dick Cleveland ” voted out of office. Moffet said the implications of Tuesday’s vote are limited to the Crossroads site, and won’t significantly affect other development in Vail.
Councilman Kevin Foley voted against the Crossroads proposal in March, but he said he is excited for Knobel.
“The citizens should always have the referendum process available to them,” he said. “The people have spoken.”
Some painted the two sides of the debates as “new Vail” vs. “old Vail.” Some prominent opponents are longtime town residents considered “Vail founders.” Gordon said it’s “old power structure” vs. “new power structure.” But Knobel said he has supporters of all ages.
“It’s a cross-section,” he said.
Opponents said it was too big, too bulky and would hurt the village ambiance of Vail. They also said it will set a precedent for “overdevelopment” in Vail.
Town Council meetings on the proposal were filled with people who spoke both in favor and against the project. The council voted against the proposal last year, after which Knobel pulled his proposal off the table.
He resubmitted it after the November election. In the last month, ads from both sides filled the Vail Daily and multiple mailings were sent to Vail voters. Both sides have spent thousands on their campaigns.
Elaine Kelton, one of the organizers of the opposition, said Tuesday the vote will have wide implications for development in Vail.
“I think you will see an appreciable change in the scale and size and what the expectation of developers is in the future,” Kelton said.
She said Knobel ran a well-funded, well-orchestrated and well-marketing campaign.
“This has been a campaign unlike any other campaign that’s been run in Vail,” she said.
Andy Wiessner, one of the organizers of the petition drive to force the election, said he congratulates Knobel. He said he doesn’t regret bringing forward the petition.
“How can you regret bringing forward something that you thought was right?” he said.
In April, Wiessner said the petitioners turned in more than 550 signatures. About 380 were needed to force the vote.
On Tuesday, 467 people voted against the project.
The turnout triples the number of voters who came out for the last special election, in 2004, when 555 people voted to fill a council seat.
The previous record turnout for a regular Vail election was 1,356 voters, in 2005.
“When the issues were out on the table, people from the democratic point of view voted,” Knobel said. “The process was great from my point of view.”
Three months ago, Knobel started polling Vail voters. Even before the numbers were released Tuesday night, Knobel said he knew he had about 850 “yes” votes with some 400 “unknown” votes.
“We started three months ago polling people so we knew if they voted what the conclusion would be,” Knobel said.
Knobel has also pledged $4 million in street improvements, $1.1 million in public art, a publicly accessible loading dock and public restrooms.
He must now get approval from the town’s design board, work to finish building plans and apply for building permits.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.