Vail Open Lands Plan revision seen as ‘a big deal’ for town and its residents
VAIL — If you’re wondering why it’s taken about two years — and counting — for a significant rewrite of the Vail Open Lands Plan, then the two short answers are: It’s complicated, and it’s important.
The plan, first passed in 1994, sets out a vision for all of the town’s undeveloped lands, including private property, town-owned land and state and federal parcels, everything from parcels with the potential for employee housing to environmentally sensitive land to existing and possible future trails. In the wake of a January forum, wildlife concerns now play a larger role in the revised plan.
During a lengthy public hearing at its Monday, March 26, meeting, Vail Planning and Environmental Commission member Brian Stockmar several times referred to the plan as “a big deal” for both town residents and officials.
Vail Environmental Sustainability Manager Kristen Bertuglia is leading the town staff’s efforts on the plan’s rewrite. In an email, Bertuglia wrote that the updated plan is “critically important because, such as the ’94 plan, it shapes the landscape of our community. How we choose to acquire, use or maintain lands demonstrates Vail’s priorities.”
While this plan, like other master plans, doesn’t have the force of law, its goal is to guide town planning and, perhaps, set a course for future action.
More than a guide
In an email, Vail resident Blondie Vucich wrote that the plan is more than just a guide.
The plan, she wrote in an email, “Is basically a document to help save us from ourselves. It will hopefully serve as a guideline and almost a type of ‘conscience.’”
Reached via telephone Tuesday, March 27, Planning and Environmental Commission member John-Ryan Lockman said in addition to conservation, the plan — which the Vail Town Council will examine after the planning board is finished — has to look at ways to find a balance between recreation and preservation.
The January wildlife forum has been widely praised for its examination of the problems facing local wildlife populations.
Lockman said one of the eye-opening parts of the forum is the need for the town and residents to better observe seasonal trail closures.
“We as a community have to be better at enforcing our own rules and letting our friends and peers know,” he said.
Resident Anne Esson returned to Vail in the 1990s, just as that decade’s Vail Tomorrow program was starting. That effort shaped thinking about everything from employee housing to open space to use of the Vail Real Estate Transfer Tax — a 1 percent tax on every real estate transaction in town.
Esson noted the Vail Tomorrow plan provided the vision for what became Donovan Park, which was once eyed for housing.
Esson said without an “overall, guiding plan,” a town can fall into trouble that could be avoided with a bit of foresight.
In the case of the town’s open lands, Esson said the town’s options are dwindling as property is developed.
A solid plan, she said, “will make us more realistic in terms of what we want to do.”
That realism now includes wildlife, Esson said. When a trails group in 2016 recommended improving the Vail Trail, a mostly primitive trail that runs from roughly Golden Peak to the Vail Golf Club, advocates lobbied for that work. A group of town residents, including Esson, fought the plan, which helped jump-start the new look at the open lands plan.
Wildlife forum’s impact
“It took a while before people understood that we weren’t just older residents who didn’t embrace (the new trail),” Esson said. The wildlife forum, she said, “crystallized” a lot of those feelings.
“Wildlife is running out of time and place, and we are accountable,” Vucich wrote.
Town staff seems ready to take to heart the recommendations in the plan now, with revisions to come through more public hearings.
“The update should … (maintain) the goals of protecting environmental resources and acquiring land for public need, and adding new actions like evaluating all existing and potential trails with a new focus on wildlife and biodiversity,” Bertuglia wrote.
Esson agreed that Vail needs to maintain a balance between recreation and preservation. But, she added, she believes there’s been an over-emphasis on recreation in recent years, and balance needs to be restored.
Vucich’s email took a more urgent tone regarding the dangers to the area’s wildlife populations, writing, “… if deer, elk and bighorn sheep are the canaries in the coal mine, we are all in trouble.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.