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Vail Renaissance is too high, critics say

Preston Utley/Vail DailySome say Vail has made mistakes in approval of some large buildings, including the Vail Plaza Hotel and Club, whose tower has already been constructed. The building is supposed to open later this year.
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VAIL ” Some of the buildings going up in Vail are mistakes, Andy Wiessner said.

“How many people in the community follow each and every building that’s being put up in town?” Wiessner said. “When you begin to see this stuff with your own eyes, you go, ‘Oh my God, what’s happening to us?'”

Wiessner is leading the fight against the proposed Crossroads building, called Solaris, which he says is too big and tall. A townwide vote on July 11 will decide the fate of Crossroads, which is 99.9 feet tall.

Some Crossroads opponents say the project is representative of other mistakes Vail has made in approving large-scale buildings. But others say the larger buildings are appropriate for Vail, especially near the Frontage Road.

“Change is never easy,” said Farrow Hitt, a Vail councilman since 2004 who voted in favor of the Crossroads proposal. “I think we’re experiencing that. A lot of my constituents stop me and say, ‘Way to go. Keep on doing what you’re doing.'”

The Four Seasons and the Vail Plaza Hotel are two of the buildings that are too big, Wiessner said. The Vail Plaza Hotel is set to be completed later this year, and its tall tower has already been constructed. The Four Seasons is beginning with excavation and is supposed to be finished in 2008.

Four Seasons will be 89 feet tall, and the Vail Plaza’s tower will be 99.75 feet tall. The buildings are considered key pieces in Vail’s “billion-dollar renewal.”

“I think the town needs renewal,” Wiessner said. “I don’t quarrel with the renewal. I just quarrel with the size of the buildings.”

Wiessner acknowledges he didn’t protest the buildings when they were being reviewed by the town government.

“When I see (the plans for) the Four Seasons, yes, I’m shocked,” he said. “Maybe I should have paid more attention.”

Vail is becoming like Disneyland, and less like successful ski towns such as Telluride, Breckenridge, Aspen, Steamboat Springs and Sun Valley, Wiessner said.

“It won’t be a village,” he said. “It won’t be quaint.”

While these projects have been rising over the last few months, they are the result of years of study, Hitt said.

Crossroads was first submitted to the town almost two years ago.

“That’s why it takes two years to go through the process instead of two months,” Hitt said.

The council has looked at impacts of the developments, including the effects on the town’s infrastructure, Hitt said. Overdevelopment is a concern, Hitt said, but the town is engaging in “controlled” growth.

The Vail Plaza Hotel and the Four Seasons and, potentially, Crossroads are larger buildings that are appropriate near the Frontage Road, not near the mountain, Hitt said.

Hitt said the vote doesn’t have wider implications beyond Crossroads on how big buildings should be in Vail.

Jason Katzman, a Vail resident and Crossroads supporter, said overdevelopment is a valid concern in Vail. But Solaris offers more benefits than the Vail Plaza Hotel and the Four Seasons, he said.

Solaris would have a three-screen movie theater, a 10-lane bowling alley, a public plaza/ice rink, stores and restaurants. The developer has also pledged to spend millions on street improvements and public art. Solaris would also have 69 condos.

“Opponents are trying to make (Crossroads) into a poster child of overdevelopment and everything that’s wrong with overdevelopment,” Katzman said.

Russ Forrest, the head of the town’s development department, said projects such as the Vail Plaza Hotel were thoroughly debated at public meetings for years.

“The projects that are coming out of the ground right now have been planned for and thought about for the last eight to 10 years,” Forrest said. “The only thing that is unique is the actual construction of these projects is happening in a two- to three-year timeframe.”

However, there is a need to re-examine long-term building plans for Vail Village, Forrest said.

“I think it is something we do need to pursue in terms of looking at the character,” he said.

Rob Ford, a former Vail mayor, said there hasn’t been adequate study of the cumulative effect of large-scale projects on Vail.

“Show me the stuff that shows it’s going to be great for Vail,” Ford said.

Ford cited potential problems with transportation and parking.

“The whole process is moving so quickly, and the developers are taking advantage of it,” he said. “They are racing it through before the studies are done.”

Dominic Mauriello, a planner for Crossroads developer Peter Knobel, said Crossroads did about $50,000 in traffic studies.

The studies, done by Fox Higgins Transportation, found that the current roads would be able to accommodate increased traffic created by the new developments ” not just Crossroads ” Mauriello said. Crossroads, if built, would also pay about $500,000 in fees to compensate for potential future effects on traffic.

Solaris provides 100 more parking spaces than it has to, Mauriello added. Solaris will have 338 underground parking spaces.

Crossroads is in discussion with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District about water use. The water use won’t be much greater than what is used at the site today, Mauriello said. Crossroads may have to pay impact fees to compensate for more water use, Mauriello said.

Forrest said the town of Vail has studied the impacts of the buildings under construction.

“I think we understand the implications of the projects that have been approved and we can address those,” Forrest said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorado


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