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Up with Middle Creek

Geraldine Haldner

But even with an approval to build 142 deed-restricted apartments and a child care center, Denver-based developer Mike Coughlin likely isn’t done jumping yet.

Several sizeable hoops remain as Vail’s most controversial current project nears an important financing deadline five weeks from now.

“This is one skirmish less,” said a visibly relieved Mark Ristow of the Local Vail Housing Authority, the entity shepherding the project through the town’s approval process, following the PEC’s approval of three motions that make Middle Creek almost reality – pending a dozen conditions and an approval from the town’s Design Review Board.

“This is an approval from the PEC. That’s a 180 degrees better than a denial,” he said of the PEC’s decision to green-light the project after a three-hour review and public comment session.

“I’m sure there will be more discussion and debate,” he said. “We still expect we ultimately end up before the (Vail Town) Council.”

The approval – which comes at the one-year anniversary of nearly 7 acres of the 25-acre hillside being zoned to accommodate high-density affordable housing, was loaded up with stern recommendations by PEC for the developer and cautious comments for the DRB – the remaining entity to green-light the project.

“I’m confident with where we have arrived,” said commissioner Dough Cahill, of the year-long review process that whittled the number of units down from 198 to 142 and re-invented it at least five times from a low-flung spread-out complex to an eight-building development with stories rising from 2- to 6-stories.

“A lot of work remains for the DRB to make it look like it’s been there for 100 years.”

Coughlin and his design team, which includes Evergreen architect Otis Odell and Vail architectural consultant Jeff Winston, presented a fine-tuned version – changing the aesthetics of the buildings from a vertical orientation to a more horizontal one – that had reverberated well with the DRB Sept. 18 and encouraged four of the seven PEC commissioners to “be courageous” as Cahill put it.

Chas Bernhardt and Erickson Shirley were absent from the vote. George Lamb voted no on two motions concerning the affordable housing approvals, agreeing only to go ahead with a 1,000-square-foot child care center to be built at the east end of the 25-acre site, located just east of the Mountain Bell tower, north of Interstate 70 at the Main Vail exit.

Among the changes, made to make the buildings look like an “Italian hillside village” in style, are fewer balconies and walkways but additions to stair towers as well as fewer forward gabled roof-lines to create a “cascading horizontal stepping” as Winston characterized it to the DRB.

But the changes didn’t mollifying critics.

“Please, we are not in southern Italy, we are in Vail, Colorado,” Vail-hotelier Sheika Gramshammer told the commission.

Born near the Austrian-Italian border, Gramshammer predicted that the architectural style will fail to fit in, because it is taken from an area dominated by hillsides facing oceans not mountains.

“We are a mountain village, look what we do we pray for snow and more snow,” she said adding that flow of debris will be a problem on the steep hillside and that the overall look will be an eyesore because of the 60 unit/per acre density.

Jim Lamont, executive director of the Vail Village Homeowners’ Association assailed the project for everything from the planning process to its impact on traffic and its effect on the microwave tower – perceived by many as an eyesore, even if it won awards when it was built in 1972.

“I see no relationship to the Mountain Bell building,” he told the commissioners, adding that one of his earliest suggestions to the project leaders had been “so that we have some sort of continuation of the mass and some sort of continuation of aesthetics of the tower.”

Instead, he said, the project is too massive and houses too many units, because the developer “said he needs it for the project to pencil out.

Housing up to 256 occupants, Lamont said, Middle Creek has the potential to create traffic gridlock in the roundabouts because it has no direct pedestrian access.

Additionally, the one- to three-bedroom apartments, priced from $540 to $1,750 will directly compete with a changed post-Sept. 11 rental market while destroying “what some think is one of the most prevalent and beautiful groves in this community.”

Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at ghaldner@vaildaily.com


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