Vail Resorts ’pauses’ participation in Booth Heights negotiations |

Vail Resorts ’pauses’ participation in Booth Heights negotiations

Town officials say work will continue on complex deal

A parcel just east of Vail’s Middle Creek Village is being eyed as a replacement for building housing on the Booth Heights parcel in East Vail.

The Vail Town Council in January launched an effort to keep housing off the 23.3-acre Booth Heights property in East Vail. That work has always been complicated, and recently became more difficult.

Vail Town Manager Scott Robson on Tuesday told the Vail Town Council that Vail Resorts has “paused” its involvement in three-way negotiations regarding the parcel.

Robson told councilmembers the resort company has stated a need to focus on opening its resorts, and keeping them open this season.

Vail Resorts owns the Booth Heights property. Vail-based Triumph Development has a contract to purchase the land. Triumph in 2019 earned town approval to build housing on the site. The Vail Planning and Environmental Commission in 2019 voted 4-3 to approve the plan. The council later that year voted 4-3 to uphold an appeal of that decision.

In January of this year, negotiations began to keep housing off that site, which critics had described as both inappropriate for housing and potentially damaging to wildlife, particularly a herd of bighorn sheep that winters in the area.

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While Vail Resorts has paused its part in the negotiations, Robson said the town staff is still working on ways to achieve the council’s housing goals and its desire to preserve open space.

“We can meet all the goals we’ve been working on the past 12 months,” Robson said, adding that town officials will continue discussions with Triumph about building on a town-owned lot just east of the Middle Creek Village apartments.

Building on that site means the current Children’s Garden of Learning has to move. Town officials and Children’s Garden officials in October announced that the town would build the child care facility a new, temporary home on the southeast side of the Lionshead parking structure, where charter buses and RVs now park.

Forest health, too

In addition to the work on alternatives to housing at Booth Heights, the town is also working on a 4,500-acre forest health project for the north side of Interstate 70 between, roughly, the East Vail Interchange and the town public works facility.

That project will be a partnership between the town, the U.S. forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The town has hired the SE Group to help meet federal requirements for working on the parcel, which is partially in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.

During a Tuesday presentation to the council, Ash Smith of the SE Group said work is continuing on meeting the requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act, which governs action on federal land.

Smith told councilmembers that the Forest Service will require an Environmental Assessment for the project area. That work will include requirements for public comment before any action is taken. The first part of that public comment will begin in early 2021.

In addition to the work in East Vail, the town is also looking at potential alternative housing sites.

Among those sites is a parcel on West Middle Creek, west of the Middle Creek apartments.

Looking to West Middle Creek

The council Tuesday gave preliminary approval to begin investigating possibly rezoning a portion of that town-owned parcel.

At the moment, all that’s involved is staff work. Any formal proposal to rezone the land for housing will have to go through public meetings.

At the urging of councilmember Kim Langmaid, the council in 2018 approved spending $7,500 for a study to determine whether that site could be used for housing.

That study determined units could be built on the steep hillside.

The problem is that the land is currently under the town’s Natural Area Preservation zoning. That’s among the town’s most restrictive land uses.

While the council could rezone the property by ordinance, councilmember Brian Stockmar said he’d be reluctant to change that zoning without “significant” mitigating factors, including inclusion of other land in the preservation category.

Stockmar said rezoning the West Middle Creek parcel strikes him as a small step that could lead to bigger problems down the road. Given the current uncertainty in the local and national economies, Stockmar urged the council to wait.

Councilmember Kevin Foley agreed.

Councilmember Jenn Bruno said the West Middle Creek parcel is part of a “great compromise” in order to keep housing off the Booth Heights property.

Bruno noted that “it’s not a certainty” the town would rezone the Middle Creek parcel, just as it’s still not certain the town can keep Booth Heights open.

With Stockmar and Foley in dissent, the rest of council approved looking into looking further into zoning that site for housing.

If it works

Here’s what town officials want to accomplish in the complex deal to keep housing off the Booth Heights parcel in East Vail:

• Preserving the 23.3 acre Booth Heights property.

• Building housing on town-owed land where the current Children’s Garden of Learning is located.

• Triumph Development would build the replacement housing.

• Triumph would get the right of first refusal to re-develop the Timber Ridge apartments.

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