Vail project stalls at crossroads
VAIL ” It has been 15 years since a major development project failed to get approval from Vail’s planning and environmental commission before being taken to the Town Council by a developer.
But that’s what’s happening with Peter Knobel’s ambitious Crossroads Shopping Center redevelopment project after the commission, which reviews such projects for the council, denied his proposal for the site.
Commission members said the 600,000 square-foot, 107.5-foot tall building, was just too big for the 2.5 acre site at the northern edge of Vail Village. It’s replacing a 60,000 square -foot building.
As proposed, it will be the largest building in Vail and its size has prompted worries about how Vail can keep its small, Bavarian-village character and also go through renovations aimed at rejuvenating commerce in Vail.
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“It sets a new benchmark for height, mass and size,” said Russell Forrest, Vail community development director, who is not on the planning commission.
Developers often negotiate a project’s size with review boards like Vail’s planning commission.
“The difficult thing will be trying to maintain the character we’ve always had,” said Vail pioneer and mayor, Rod Slifer, in an earlier interview about the project. “That will be the challenge.”
But Knobel disagreed with the planning commission’s assessment and wants to take his case straight to the Town Council, which will hear it Jan. 18.
Missing the point?
The denial left the proponents frustrated by what they said is a lack of recognition of the merits of the project, and hopeful they could persuade the town council they’re correct in that assessment.
“We’re a little frustrated that the staff doesn’t recognize the public benefits of the project,” said Dominic Mauriello, a planner who represents Knobel. “Those include a one-half-acre public plaza, ice skating rink, and $2.1 million in sales, lodging tax and property tax revenue, a four-screen theater, a Dave and Buster’s and a bowling alley.”
In taking their case to the Town Council the proponents feel they’ve run out of options with the planning commission.
“We decided we wanted to deal with the decision makers,” Mauriello said. “We felt we had negotiated as much as we could with the planning commission.”
The project also calls for an underground parking garage with more than 500 spaces and 85 condominiums above the retail spaces.
Amid a renaissance
Vail businessman and real estate broker Ron Byrne, at an earlier Crossroads hearing, urged approval of the project.
“The economic vitality of Vail rests solidly on this site,” he said. “It gives back vitality to the village.”
Businesses in the existing shopping center now generate $179,000 in annual sales tax revenue, project proponents said. And town officials are planning how the town will deal with the loss of sales tax while the businesses in the shopping center are closed during the 24 months it will take to build a project.
As with previous redevelopment projects, the town will scale back revenue forecasts for the duration of the construction, said Suzanne Silverthorn of the town. Often times, she said, the loss of retail sale tax is offset by building permit and other fees.
The Crossroads ruling comes in the midst of Vail’s $1 billion economic revitalization effort that has been dubbed a “renaissance” for the 42 year-old town. Vail Village and Lionshead have been hurt by economic competition downvalley, town leaders said, and needs to upgrade its facilities to be competitive.
Knobel purchased the 36-year-old Crossroads complex last winter for $13.4 million and unveiled an ambitious development plan earlier this year that proposes a tenfold increase in square footage.
It was 1989
The last time a project failed to get planning commission approval was in 1989 when developer Leo Palmos took his plans for the Gateway building at the main Vail roundabout before the town council. Palmos subsequently modified his plans for the building.
Vail’s redevelopment policies allows owners of aging buildings to increase their building’s size in return for rebuilding them and providing the town with sidewalks and updated pedestrian areas.
Deciding what gets built during the review of progects is a study in negotiating ettiquette. One regular participant in project reviews was overheard saying the process is akin to a “blood sport.”
Developers rely on the town’s zoning plan to decide what can be built on a lot. The zoning for the Crossroads area has not been updated since 1970, Forrest said.
Eighteen units per-acre are allowed at Crossroads and Knobel’s project calls for 28.
The maximum building height approved by the town so far has been 104 feet, Forrest said, and the zoning for at Crossroads allows just 38 feet. The height of Knobel’s 10-story project as proposed is 107.5 feet.
The zoning for that area may need some revising, Forrest said.
The Vail Plaza, which will abut the Crossroads to the west, and is now being built, will be 104 feet tall and contains 379,000 square feet of lodging, retail and commercial space. It replaces the 52-unit Vail Village Inn.
Before the commission’s denial, Knobel’s planner, Mauriello, unveiled revised plans that changed the appearance, shape and size of their Crossroads building.
“I think both the planning commission and staff were happy with the changes,” Mauriello said.
The Crossroads shopping center was built in 1968 by Ted Kendall, Dick Bailey, Rod Slifer, Morgan Davis and Fred Ford. It houses 40 businesses including two movie theaters, professional offices, retail shops, galleries and a grocery store as well as residences above the commercial spaces.
Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 450, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.