Vail officials looking at US Forest Service land adjacent to town for possible housing
VAIL — A feasibility study shows that much of the U.S. Forest Service land adjacent to town boundaries can be acquired by the town — specifically for housing.
Nothing more than a familiarization process, members of Town Council and town staff spent Tuesday afternoon touring Forest Service land that could potentially be of benefit to town.
“This is very preliminary,” Mayor Dave Chapin said. “With this council, in light of our clear housing issues that we have here, nothing’s off the table. We’re just trying to be creative.”
Chapin and the rest of the council are aware of possible problems that could arise from taking this path, from dislocating wildlife habitats to community acceptance, but the town is looking at all potential options.
“I think the tour helps provide some visual reference to the parcels we are discussing,” said George Ruther, the town’s community development manager who led the site visits Tuesday.
Ruther led the tour of about 10 U.S. Forest Service properties adjacent to the town’s boundary and the feasibility of acquiring the properties for any benefit to the town.
“One thing that stood out was that many of these sites would be very difficult to develop due to slope and wildlife considerations,” Chapin said.
Ruther and Tom Glass, consulting for the town for Western Land Group, narrowed the possible Forest Service land surrounding town down to more feasible properties that have things such as access to roads, utilities and, more importantly, land that would have community support to build on and political will.
The tour included properties ranging from 2 acres to 60 acres. Ruther said possible housing could follow the examples of other properties such as Timber Ridge and Chamonix, which have 20 to 30 units per acre.
Council members and staff visited parcels across Vail, starting with a 5-acre Forest Service property in East Vail off of the North Frontage Road near Vail Mountain School.
Council member Kim Langmaid noticed big horn sheep near the property and would go on to point out issues concerning wildlife at each property.
“I think we need to be very mindful of the wildlife habitat that’s around us,” Langmaid said. “They’re right there, so it’s really important.”
The second parcel, a 2.5-acre piece of land in an East Vail neighborhood, provides an opportunity for lower-density housing.
The third parcel on the tour was up Potato Patch, in the heart of the community, and was 8 acres of “easily buildable” land, Ruther said. Possible issues here, like many of the parcels, is the acceptance of the current homeowners in the area.
Ruther said many of the parcels are opportunities for “creative solutions.”
“That’s why we’re looking,” Chapin said.
The fourth parcel brought the van full of town officials to a 1-acre, developable piece of land at the end of Garmisch Road.
The tour then hit the dirt as council members and staff hiked up to look south across Interstate 70 to see three connecting parcels that make up almost 60 acres.
“There are potentially a large number of road blocks going down this road, and we are very aware of that,” Chapin said.
Initial results from the 2016 Eagle County Housing Needs Assessment show Eagle County needs about 850 units this year to cover job growth.
Town staff is currently in the process of updating its current comprehensive open lands plan. Staff recommends that and acquisition plan is included in the open lands plan.
“We’ll wait for any further direction,” Ruther said.
Before anything happens, the town will seek public input.
“If this is a direction the Town Council wants to pursue, then we need to get public involvement and community engagement into this conversation,” Ruther added.
In the meantime, the town will continue to think proactively to address the housing need in town, and across the county.
Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.