Vail Council OKs ban on new permits for East Vail project

Vail Resorts says action takes property rights without due process

Several Vail residents and Vail Resorts representatives gathered Tuesday as the Vail Town Council voted to impose a moratorlum on issuing any permits for a 23-acre site in East Vail the resort company wants to use for housing.
Kris Widlak/courtesy photo

The Vail Town Council Tuesday imposed a moratorium on new permits for the former Booth Heights project, now known as the East Vail Workforce Housing subdivision. The vote was 6-1, with Council member Barry Davis opposed.

The moratorium is intended to preserve the property while the town works to acquire the land through condemnation from Vail Resorts, which owns the land.

About the East Vail parcel:

Location: Just north of the Interstate 70 interchange at East Vail.

Owner: Vail Resorts.

Size: 23.3 acres, with roughly 5.3 acres zoned for workforce housing.

What’s proposed: A combination of rental housing and for-sale townhomes. Most of those homes would be deed restricted.

The measure was passed as an “emergency” ordinance, meaning it can take effect after just one vote of approval instead of two.

The ordinance was proposed as a follow-up to other council action Tuesday, rejecting an appeal of a recent Vail Design Review Board approval of changes to the building plan.

That appeal was filed by four East Vail residents, all of whom took issue with the design board’s May 18 approval of a number of design changes to the already-approved project.

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Those appeals were based on factors including night lighting, the use of cedar siding on the proposed building, storm runoff, the need for a new traffic study and other factors.

Sarah Kellner, an attorney whose firm is working for Vail Resorts, replied that the appellants’ complaints were part of already-approved plans and outside the scope of Tuesday’s hearing.

Resident Jenn Bruno, a former Council member, told that group that the design board “didn’t err” in its decision.

“I see nothing that doesn’t comply with (town) design standards at the time of approval,” Bruno said.

Other than a Council desire to use noncombustible siding — something that current project leader OZ Architecture agreed to — council members seemed to agree that the appellants’ arguments were outside the defined scope of Tuesday’s hearing.

Council member Travis Coggin said he believed the design board did its job, working with existing town guidelines.

Other council members agreed, voting 7-0 to uphold the design board’s decision.

About those permits…

Town Attorney Matt Mire told council members that issuing permits for the 23.3-acre site in East Vail had been on hold while the resident appeal was pending. With that over, Mire said the town needed to take new steps to prevent any work on the controversial site.

Allowing permits would be inconsistent with a May 3 Council decision to begin condemnation proceedings to acquire the property, Mire said.

Vail Resorts has consistently expressed its intent to build on the site since talks in 2020 failed to reach a conclusion that would have built new workforce housing, while preventing development on the parcel.

Kellner told Council members the firm has “important legal concerns” about the move. Kellner noted that a land owner is entitled to exercise its property rights on a piece of land before that land is condemned, particularly since the property has town approvals in place.

“I want to make clear how drastic and unprecedented this ordinance actually is,” Keller said. She noted that her work specializes in land use law, adding that she’s “never seen” the kind of action the town took, adding that the Council is, in essence, trying to take property rights without due process.

Kellner wasn’t the only lawyer in the audience Tuesday.

Resident Mike Brown said he’s been a practicing lawyer for 40 years. Brown said Vail Resorts applying for permits for the property while condemnation proceedings are active would be a waste of time and money for both Vail Resorts and the town.

Brown added that building on the site would “irreparably damage” the site for bighorn sheep, which use portions of the site as winter habitat.

Not an emergency?

But resident Stephen Connolly told the Council he failed to see the need for emergency action. Connolly noted that Vail residents and business owners have for years been “pounding” Vail Resorts for action on workforce housing.

“People in the small business community think (the ordinance) is ludicrous,” Connolly said.

Gina Grisafi, who filed one of the appeals along with John Reimers, said the emergency ordinance “is for exactly this situation.”

Council Member Pete Seibert voted against the May condemnation action. But, he said, he’s been “disappointed” in Vail resorts since then.

Seibert noted that the Residences at Main Vail, currently under construction, was built so the East Vail parcel could be used to preserve bighorn sheep habitat.

“We can’t listen to what we’re being told; we have to watch what’s being done,” Seibert said, noting that Vail Resorts has expressed a commitment to workforce housing in town.

Coggin also voted against the condemnation action, and said he won’t support similar actions in the future. But, he added, there shouldn’t be any activity on the site right now, and he would support the emergency ordinance.

In opposition to the ordinance, Davis said while preserving the sheep herd is “important to everyone,” the council’s action was “overreach” and interfering with private property rights.

The moratorium on any new permits is expected to last through court action on the condemnation.

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