Vail initiates talks with Booth Heights developers to pursue an alternative path
Centerpiece of discussions, according to the mayor, is an exploration of other viable town-owned housing sites
VAIL — For more than two years, the Vail Town Council has been split — often sharply — on the fate of a 23.3-acre parcel in East Vail that came to be known as Booth Heights. There’s finally some consensus.
Vail Mayor Dave Chapin announced Thursday that the town has approached representatives from Vail Resorts and Triumph Development to explore alternatives to Booth Heights.
“I’m pleased to announce that all seven members of the Vail Town Council are committed to advancing our leadership in good faith to discuss alternatives to the Booth Heights development,” Chapin was quoted in a release. “As such, we have directed our town manager to meet with the development team to express our interest in presenting an alternative approach that would advance both our community’s housing and environmental stewardship goals.”
Controversy since Day One
Booth Heights has been controversial since Vail Resorts in 2017 first proposed rezoning the parcel. The council ultimately approved putting just more than 17 acres into the town’s natural area preservation zone district — one of the town’s most restrictive. The remaining 5.5 acres were put into the town’s housing zone district, which allows a mix of deed-restricted and free-market units.
Much of the controversy over the parcel centered on the fate of the bighorn sheep herd that winters in the vicinity. Much time and discussion about the parcel revolved around whether the herd could be preserved with what ultimately became a proposal for 61 units of rental and for-sale housing on the site.
The 2017 rezoning ordinance passed on a 5-2 vote, with council members Jen Mason and Kim Langmaid opposed.
Virtually every other vote was 4-3 — at both the council and Vail Planning and Environmental Commission levels.
A big step forward
Vail Town Manager Scott Robson said having a unanimous Vail Town Council behind the latest effort is a big step forward.
Robson said it’s essential for the council “to be in lock-step” to reflect the town’s desire to create more affordable and deed-restricted housing.
“I’ve been pleased over these past couple of weeks … to see that we really do have a collaborative, consolidated voice,” he said.
Beyond housing, Robson said it’s essential for the town to present a unified voice on environmental sustainability and other issues.
The decision to pursue alternatives to Booth Heights has come with the cooperation of Vail Resorts and Triumph Development. But it’s still uncertain just what alternatives might exist.
In 2018, the council — again on a split vote — agreed to spend $7,500 on a feasibility study for a 17.87-acre parcel just west of the Middle Creek Apartments.
That study found building rental housing on the site could be done — and with as many as 175 units — but it would be complicated, particularly regarding parking.
Robson said just having a feasibility study on that site doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a better option than any other.
“We’ll need feasibility studies on multiple properties” moving forward, Robson said. “We want to make sure we find the right fit.”
That right fit includes balancing units with parking, traffic volumes, geological issues, and wildlife preservation, he added.
Vail Local Housing Authority Chairman Steve Lindstrom said he’s pleased to see a united front from the council.
“Right now, the (community and council) is more divided than I’ve ever seen,” Lindstrom said. “There’s been consensus (on other big issues) in the past.”
Lindstrom added that an effort is needed to find a “win/win/win” solution for the community, Vail Resorts and the environment.
“If this all comes together, it’s in the spirit of how Vail has grown and progressed over the decades,” Lindstrom said. “Competing ideas and factions have come together … and come out with a great solution.”
In the release about the new initiative, Chapin asked the community to join the council in the effort to find alternatives to Booth Heights.
“Together, we can work to bring balance to our priorities and elevate our vision to be the premier international mountain resort community.”
Langmaid has fought the Booth Heights idea since the earliest days of the 2017 rezoning proposal. She said she’s happy to see the council united in the new effort.
“It’s very important,” she said. “That is the only way we’re going to get great things done in our community.”
Langmaid added that while the council has been divided on this issue, “I think we actually have more in common than people think. We all want what’s best for the community.” And, she added, the council is ready to “work among ourselves and our partners to find solutions that will work for the community.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2930.