Vail housing sites scarce, and will be hard to build upon
What little vacant land there is would be complicated and expensive for construction
VAIL — No matter the fate of the Booth Heights workforce housing proposal — which the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission approved this week on a 4-3 vote — Vail will need more workforce housing. But sites are scarce.
Over the past few years, town officials have looked at a few sites for workforce housing. Here’s a look at a list compiled by the Vail Housing Department.
The Lions Ridge apartments were built on the eastern half of the roughly 10-acre parcel starting in 2014. The western half of the property could be redeveloped in the not-too-distant future.
Vail Housing Director George Ruther said any re-development of the site — which the town purchased in 2003 for $20 million — would at the very least replace the 98 units on the site. A unit-for-unit replacement is what happened on the eastern portion of the property.
But, Ruther said, there’s an opportunity for a “significant” increase in density on the western portion of the property. Taller buildings could at least double the current number of units.
• West Middle Creek: Town council members in 2018 approved spending money to evaluate the steep, town-owned parcel. Local architect Bill Pierce’s firm looked at the site — roughly between the existing Middle Creek and Solar Vail apartments. Pierce’s report to the town indicated that the parcel is potentially suitable for as many as 175 units.
But building on the site would be complicated and potentially expensive.
The parcel is also in the town’s “natural area preservation” zone district. That’s one of the most restrictive zoning designations the town has, but that zoning can be changed by the council.
• The town also owns a small piece of land on the western end of the Chamonix townhomes property in West Vail. Like much of the remaining unbuilt land in town, that parcel is steep, and would be complicated to build upon.
Ruther said there has been some discussion about selling the land to a developer, with the town using the proceeds to build housing elsewhere.
Ruther said town officials have been in discussions with the Colorado Department of Transportation about a handful of state-owned parcels in town, primarily in the East Vail area.
Ruther said there’s currently feasibility work being on a parcel near the intersection of Spruce Way and Columbine Drive, near the base of Vail Pass.
Ruther noted the transportation department is a major employer in the valley, and in need of housing. One option would be for the state to provide land for the town to do a Chamonix-style development. In that project, the town paid about $17 million to pay for construction — money that was recouped with the sale of the 32 townhomes.
“All of these parcels are faced with a unique set of challenges,” Ruther said. The town has been faced for decades with a scarcity of buildable land, he added. Building on any still-vacant parcel will be complicated, at best.
While Ruther said there are some potential sites owned by the U.S. Forest Service for which the town could work exchanges, Vail Town Council members were lukewarm, at best, about pursuing those parcels.
Part of that is the complexity of dealing with a federal agency. Exchanges can take years to consummate.
What about these?
In addition to those sites, Booth Heights critics sometimes call for building on either the Ever Vail site or at the old Roost Lodge site.
Ever Vail, on Vail Resorts-owned property between Lionshead and Cascade Village, was approved in 2012.
Nothing has happened in the years since that approval. The development’s approvals expire on Dec. 31, 2020, and the resort company has given no indication that work is about to start.
A key element of that approval is relocating South Frontage Road, which roughly bisects the 12.6-acre site. That project requires more than simply the millions of dollars of construction requires. It also requires agreements with the Colorado Department of Transportation, which owns both the town’s frontage roads.
The old Roost Lodge site in West Vail in early 2017 earned a key town council approval for a Marriott Residence Inn. That approval called for 170 hotel rooms and 102 apartments, with 96 of those units being deed-restricted.
That council approval — which still requires a development agreement with the town to move forward — so far has been the last activity from the original developers, the Chicago-based Harp Group.
Since early 2017, the property has gone on the market, and no deal has been completed.