Vail residents split on open lands for housing |

Vail residents split on open lands for housing

Who spoke up

At meetings so far on an update of the Vail Open Lands Plan, participants answered a questionnaire on several open lands-related topics. Based on those responses, here’s how the “focus” of those participants broke down:

Disc golf: 16.

Anti-housing (on open lands): 19.

Environmental protection: 10.

Open space preservation: 11.

VAIL — Sure, there are vast tracts of open land on the slopes above Vail. On the valley floor, open land is limited. What to do with that land has sparked debate for decades. But residents who have weighed in so far on a new version of the town’s open lands plan say they don’t want any exchanges with the U.S. Forest Service.

Town officials are revamping the Vail Open Lands Plan, which was created in 1994. Since open lands in Vail can easily spark often-heated debate, officials are asking for residents’ opinions. There have already been a pair of open house meetings. More are in the works.

The Vail Town Council Tuesday heard an update from those first meetings. Among the most vocal responses to questions came on the topics of Gore Creek and the prospect of working on land exchanges along the town’s boundaries with the U.S. Forest Service.

That federal property has been eyed as one way to provide land for future workforce housing projects.

Consultant Tom Braun told council members that residents so far take a dim view of the idea.

A memo about the meeting states that opposition to the idea was “nearly unanimous.” Council member Kim Langmaid echoed that opposition, saying “I won’t go there under any circumstances.”

There was also a significant amount of opposition to using undeveloped land elsewhere in town for more housing. Comments included:

• Housing downvalley.

• “Not everyone can live in Vail.”

• (The) town should not be in the real estate business.

Among the more than 75 residents who submitted comments, there was also strong support for efforts to preserve and improve Gore Creek, Braun said.

Survey responses about the creek included calling it “a vital cherished asset” and “critical to the energy of the town.”

Recreation and Preservation

There was also strong support for creating more opportunities in town to play disc golf. Recreation and preservation found more favor overall than using current town property, or acquiring new land, for development.

Braun said the new plan — which will be developed throughout the year and could get its first council review in October — will probably have a number of similarities with the 1994 plan. That shows in more support for preservation than development on open lands.

Open lands has a different meaning than open space in Vail. Open space is legally protected in the town code. Open lands, on the other hand, is simply vacant property.

That means open lands, in this case, could potentially be viewed for development potential. Residents’ opinions were fairly evenly split on including housing in the lands plan, with 38 percent housing should be included and 41 percent opposing the idea.

Those who oppose including housing in the lands plan tended to view open lands in Vail property that should remain forever open.

Other residents said housing isn’t an issue the town can solve, instead favoring business-based solutions to the shortage.

In her comments, Langmaid said she agrees with residents who want to keep open lands open, saying those lands provide an important buffer between the human world and the natural.

As the plan comes together this year, Braun said town officials will assemble a “technical expert group” including representatives from Vail Resorts, the Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Eagle Valley Watershed Council and the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Information from that group will be presented to the public at a meeting set for Feb. 22 in The Grand View Room, atop the Lionshead Village parking structure.

Another update to the council is set for March 7.

There will be more input meetings and council updates set through the rest of the ski season into late spring. Summer will see the plan drafted, sent out for public review and then evaluated by the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission. The council will hold reviews and public hearings on the plan starting in October.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, and @scottnmiller.

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