Still looking for a place to "park’
Parking skiers on the town’s softball fields – seen by some people as a way to ease parking congestion during the coming ski season in Vail – is being assailed by critics as the beginning of the end of local open space.
This week, the town began designing a temporary parking lot that could be built on top of the Ford Park softball fields, where between 600 and 700 skiers may be able to park on busy weekend this winter. The three-mile-long lines of cars crowded along the South Front Road – like a very narrow used car lot – has irritated town officials and other locals during recent winters.
The idea has support, but many argue it should only last one ski season.
“Under no circumstances should Ford Park be considered as a permanent day-skier parking solution,” Vail businessman Joe Staufer said in a letter read at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting. “We do not live here and our guests do not come here for ersatz grass, and Ford Park was intended to be a park, not a parking lot.”
Town planners, after receiving a unanimous go-ahead from all seven Town Council members Tuesday, is now examining what material to place over the fields to protect – or to even replace – the grass with AstroTurf or some other synthetic product. The town also is trying to figure out how quickly the grass could be restored after ski season for use in the spring and summer.
Perhaps most importantly, the town will try to determine how much the lot would cost and how much money would be collected in parking fees.
“If we don’t get started today or very shortly, we not going get this done this winter and we’re going to have a problem,” Councilman Bill Jewitt said. “I don’t want us to get to November and we have no solution once again.”
On the busiest days, cars have been parked in a solid three-mile line from the golf course in East Vail to Donovan Park in West Vail. Mayor Ludwig Kurz said this week the town cannot wait another ski seasons to tackle its parking problems.
“We will be in exactly the same position we found ourselves in last year – and that was a position a lot of us found was not tolerable,” Kurz said.
At open-space’s expense?
Councilwoman Diana Donovan, however, said the solution should not come at the expense of the town’s open space.
“A lot of people in the community also find it’s not tolerable to park cars on our parks and rec parcels,” said Donovan, who voted to let the town explore the idea but also said it should only be a one-year program.
“I don’t want to see this process as the beginning of the end of our open space,” she said.
The parking dilemma highlights the profound relationship between the town and the ski company, as both stand to suffer from worsening parking congestion. Meanwhile, questions of who will pay for the temporary lot are unresolved.
“It is a Vail Resorts problem; it’s their problem to resolve,” said Councilman Dick Cleveland. “But we also have guests who come here and we also have a role to play in this.”
More ambitious parking plans are on the drawing board. As part of the conference center the town plans to build in Lionshead, Vail Resorts has offered to give the town about the half the money needed to build another level on the Lionshead parking garage, which could make available to skiers another 400 parking spaces.
Cleveland said it’s these plans that made him comfortable enough to vote to allow temporary parking on Ford Park. The permit, if one is eventually issued for the lot, should only be for a year, Cleveland said.
“We should only continue to do this if there’s a permanent solution on the horizon,” Cleveland said.
But Donovan, who has sharply criticized Vail Resorts in the past for the parking problems, said the ski company hasn’t got its “act together.”
“We’re letting Vail Resorts off the hook by not insisting they come up with a permanent solution with their land and with their money,” she said.
In his letter, Staufer suggested skiers be allowed to use Ford Park for up to three years only if Vail Resorts is close to building large-scale permanent parking.
“Ford Park was not bought by the Vail taxpayers to provide free land for Vail Resorts to park their customers,” he wrote. “Vail Resorts has to decide whether they want to continue to be in the day-skier business. If the answer is “yes,’ they will have to face the parking issue as their problem.”
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at email@example.com.