Vail evaluates zoning changes to incentivize community housing in West Vail
Town Council hears first proposal for a West Vail multi-family overlay zone district
Vail is digging into the first phase of the West Vail master plan, with strategies meant to incentivize and bolster community housing in the area.
“There are many factors that indicate West Vail is ready for a change in its housing policies and zoning code,” reads the master plan. “The current housing stock does not conform to either the existing zoning or the desired future for the area. The market forces at play do not bode well for West Vail to continue to be a year-round resident community. And finally, the potential transformation of West Vail Center is a key opportunity to better incorporate and expand the housing offering into the commercial core of the neighborhood.”
At its Tuesday, May 2 meeting, the Vail Town Council heard a first proposal for a West Vail multi-family overlay zone district, which would aim to create more flexibility of options for homeowners in the area and create more workforce housing.
Much of the current housing in West Vail was developed under Eagle County jurisdiction and annexed into the town in the 1980s. According to Greg Roy, the town’s planner, this meant portions of the area were “over density,” non-conforming to their zone districts, and as such, are “unable to redevelop.”
“What the recommendations in the West Vail Master Plan were looking to do was to implement new zone districts that would allow these properties to redevelop with a variety of density and maintain the neighborhood compatibility as well as some of the workforce housing that’s a result in that area,” Roy said.
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The latest proposal came after nearly a year of meetings and work between town staff and the Planning and Environmental Commission. The process started with the zoning recommendations contemplated in the master plan and went through multiple iterations before landing on the overlay district that was before the council.
The master plan document proposed the creation of two new zone districts that would create minimum and maximum density requirements, employee housing unit requirements based on the number of units built, increasing gross residential floor area allotments, and restricting short-term rentals.
From June 2022 to December 2022, town staff, contractors, the commission, legal teams, and members of the community evaluated various zoning map changes and found that a different approach may be needed to achieve the intended impact.
“As we were going through this process, we realized we were getting further and further with each step from the original recommendations that were in the master plan,” Roy said. “We have this area in West Vail that has everything from single-family all the way up to 28 units on a development lot and we’re trying to create a very standard zone district. It felt like we were trying to put a very square peg into a round hole.”
Roy said the town took a step back, “went and met with the property owners around to hear more of their concerns, vetted some of the ideas with the legal team and kind of came back with a revised approach.”
The revised approach, he added, would be an overlay district over the West Vail area. This would create a zone district in the town’s code without changing the zoning map in the area.
“Properties that were inside of that overlay district would be able to apply to rezone their property to adopt that overlay district and get the advantage of those looser standards that are within there,” Roy said.
The proposed overlay would set standards for setbacks height, density, gross residential floor area allotments, site coverage and landscaping. Some of the “improvements” with the overlay district, according to Roy, are the density could be varied by the commission. He also said the new overlay district adapts the employee housing unit and parking requirements from the existing town code and also creates standards for site coverage and landscaping.
The employee housing requirements would follow similar requirements and inclusionary zoning rules that already exist in the town code. The proposed employee-housing unit requirements for the area would require mitigation based on a percentage of the square footage increase.
Roy’s example contemplated a 2,000-square-foot property adding 1,000 square feet. The inclusionary zoning proposed would then require 30% mitigation of the 1,000 square feet. Additionally, the deed restriction or employee housing unit would not count toward the property’s density but would be in addition to density allowances. Any employee housing mitigation above 438 square feet (a requirement created by an increase of 1,460 square feet or higher) would be required to be done on-site.
“You could always do a little bit more, that would be the minimum that would be required,” Roy said.
A bigger carrot?
While the Town Council was overall in support of the concept, it had concerns over whether it would be enough to have the desired effect.
“While I want to incentivize investment in West Vail … I also want to incentivize investment that is going to protect community,” said Council member Barry Davis, adding that while he could see the overlay incentivize development, he didn’t “understand how it’s going to protect and create homes.”
Davis added that “the neighborhood in Chamonix and Matterhorn are the two areas in our community most ripe for redevelopment” and this plan could just lead to “a bunch of small EHUs attached to second homes.”
“I’d love to find a different way to incentivize investment in our town that incentivizes people in our town to build community housing — we need a bigger carrot,” Davis said. “Or else we’re going to have a lot of unoccupied duplexes in the Chamonix neighborhood.”
On whether the zoning would have the desired effect, Matt Gennett, the town’s community development director, said that it has heard from property owners that “they largely want to do what is outlined here, which is take advantage of that multi-family existing product that they can’t redevelop today, they can redevelop it and create that additional density that will be forever housing EHU units.”
However, he acknowledged there’s only one way to find out what the impact of the overlay district would be.
“We’re still in the theory, we need to get into the testing,” Gennett said. “I think it’s a much more pragmatic approach to look at it as an opt-in. Then, we didn’t force anyone to do this — not that we legally can or should — but we can see how many people actually take advantage of it and what it does and then revisit in a year, two years, after we see how many applications we get in and what they’re for.”
In order to understand the impacts more fully, the Town Council requested more information before approving the overlay. This included requests for estimations on the potential number of newly-created units if all properties opt-in, draft scenarios that could be created with the new overlay, clarity on the application and public input process, enhanced incentives, as well as a review of the current fee-in-lieu schedule for employee housing units.