Vail Resorts rejects town of Vail’s $12 million offer for East Vail land
At this point, resolution will likely be in the hands of the district court
On Monday, Oct. 3, Vail Resorts responded to the town’s $12 million offer for the contested East Vail property with a resounding “no.”
“For Vail Resorts, this is not, and has never been about money. This is about building affordable housing that the town desperately needs now to support the hundreds of employees who are the town’s lifeblood and who make both Vail Mountain and the town of Vail a world-class destination,” wrote Bill Rock, Vail Resorts’ executive vice president and chief operating officer of its mountain division, in a letter to the town of Vail on Monday.
The $12 million offer was sent via a letter from Vail Town Manager Stan Zemler to Rock and Vail Resorts on Wednesday, Sept. 21.
“The town of Vail seeks to acquire from The Vail Corporation clear title to the fee interest in certain real property for open space purposes,” Zemler wrote. “The Town Council has found and determined that the acquisition of unencumbered fee title to Booth Heights Land for open space is necessary and serves a public use and purpose.”
The letter stated that the offer would “remain open” until noon on Monday, Oct. 3. And on Monday afternoon, Rock sent a response to the offer, addressed to Zemler.
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Rock’s five-page letter in response to the town’s offer not only “declines to accept that offer,” but also details the ways that “despite recent council comments to the contrary, Vail Resorts has, for years, sought to work collaboratively with the Town to provide affordable employee housing while preserving the bighorn sheep habitat.”
Further, the letter states that “for the benefit of the bighorn sheep,” Vail Resorts, in 2017, sought approvals to rezone 17.9 acres of the site as a natural area preservation district, as well as sought — from 2017 to 2019 — a series of entitlements for the property.
“After five long years of time, money, and significant effort, the East Vail Parcel is now fully entitled, and Vail Resorts is ready to move forward with much-needed affordable housing,” Rock wrote.
“After five years of collaborative efforts between Vail Resorts and the Town Council, including significant effort on the part of both entities to prepare a robust and meaningful mitigation plan to protect the bighorn sheep and numerous negotiations over the past year to discuss alternative options for collaboration, this Town Council’s decision to eradicate those efforts and turn shovel ready affordable housing into open space in a Town that is so limited in available, developable land, and in an area that already has luxury homes and significant human activity within it, is inexplicable,” he added later on.
Vail Mountain Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Beth Howard emphasized the workforce challenges that Vail Resorts has, specifically with regard to affordable housing in a statement provided to the Vail Daily.
Hiring a team, Howard wrote in the statement, is “increasingly difficult for me and my fellow business leaders in the community due to the lack of affordable housing in and around Vail. I’ve lived here for decades, and the problem continues to get worse.”
Rock’s letter also, in several instances, urged the town to use the $12 million in a different manner.
“Please also consider that rather than condemn affordable employee housing for the employees that are the lifeblood of the town, Vail Resorts hopes that the Council will consider using the $12 million it offered to Vail Resorts to instead implement measures that will actually help protect the bighorn sheep herd. Even a fraction of the Town’s $12 million for shutting down affordable housing could have a huge impact on protecting the herd from all potential domestic threats,” Rock wrote.
In a phone call with the Vail Daily on Monday, Vail Mayor Kim Langmaid said that to this point, “what we heard from the wildlife biologist is that we should avoid any development on that site in total because of the impact of ongoing daily disturbance to the sheep will compromise their health and ability to persist in the future.”
“That is why we have requested many times over and offered alternate sites that have no impact on big horn sheep,” Langmaid said.
Overall, Langmaid said that Vail Resort’s denial of the offer was “disappointing because this was a generous offer and we had really hoped that they would accept the offer, and we could move forward in renewed partnership and work toward housing at some of the other locations that we’ve offered up to them: Residences at Main Vail, Middle Creek and the redo of Timber Ridge.”
On these, Rock wrote in his Oct. 3 letter that “Vail Resorts remains willing and eager to engage with the town on each of the proposals the town has put forth.”
However, Rock claims that “the town has steadfastly refused to meet with us for the last several months.”
To this point, Langmaid clarified that these housing projects were offered to the company as “alternative sites” to the East Vail property. And while the town is open to discussing these proposals with the corporation in the future, the time isn’t right.
“We’re definitely willing to talk to them about those other sites when the time comes, but it hasn’t quite come yet because we aren’t far enough along in the development process, and we’ll be including all other businesses in the town of Vail in that discussion,” she said. “It’s a matter of timing and we had offered those other sites as alternate locations. So, they could expedite that timing, tremendously, if they were to see them as alternate locations, but they don’t want to see it that way.”
Conversations about this East Vail parcel — while ongoing for multiple years — hit a point of contention between the corporation and town earlier this year, when the town voted in May to begin condemnation proceedings in order to preserve the big horn sheep herd that resides on the property.
Since May, the two parties have exchanged a number of letters in which the town offered other housing projects and the corporation urged the town to reconsider its decision to condemn.
Rock maintained this position regarding the condemnation in his Oct. 3 letter, writing, “Vail Resorts does not believe that condemnation of an approved affordable housing project is warranted or appropriate.”
However, the conversations took a legal turn in September when Vail Resorts filed a complaint in the Eagle County District Court, accusing the town of improper use of an emergency ordinance process. The town had invoked this emergency ordinance in August to place a moratorium on new permits on the site.
Langmaid said she had hoped that the $12 million offer would put an end to this contention and allow the two parties to move forward in collaboration.
“We were hopeful that we could put this whole issue with the East Vail property behind us and move on,” Langmaid said. “But instead, it looks like now, the courts will have to take this up.”
And instead of moving forward, Vail Resorts’ lawsuit as well as their rejection of the town’s offer is a “huge distraction,” Langmaid added.
“It just really doesn’t bode well for the partnership between the town of Vail and Vail Resorts or quite honestly, all of the other mountain communities where they operate, because if they’re not willing to accept this very generous offer here, then it probably sends a message to all of their other communities that they’re not willing to negotiate on other issues that may arise there,” she added. “I was really hoping that they would accept the offer. We’ll see what happens moving forward.”
In his letter, Rock also expressed a need for collaboration and partnership between the town and the corporation.
“The fate of the East Vail property likely will need to be decided by a court — and both Vail Resorts and the town will need to live with that outcome and find a path forward to work together,” Rock wrote. “While that process moves forward, let us start to work together on the other affordable housing projects.”
At the same time, Vail Resorts maintained that it will continue to fight for the East Vail project to become affordable housing in the future.
“We hope that the Town Council decides to use its valuable resources to implement meaningful measures that will actually protect the bighorn sheep herd habitat rather than to acquire land approved for affordable employee housing. Vail Resorts does not believe that condemnation is warranted or appropriate in this situation,” Rock wrote. “It intends to protect the property and the project that it has fought so hard to preserve for the past 5 years and will do so in court if necessary.”
With the matter likely to be determined in the courts, the town is considering, via a resolution, setting up a dedicated fund for public and private contributions toward any costs associated with the town of Vail’s pursuit to acquire the East Vail property for the purpose of conservation of habitat and open space.
Langmaid said that with Vail Resorts’ decision, this fund would “help us pay for whatever the ultimate amount is that the courts decide.”
Town Council is scheduled to discuss this resolution at its Tuesday, Oct. 4 Town Council evening meeting. At this same meeting, the council also has an agenda item to vote on the second reading of a budget amendment ordinance to fund its $12 million offer using real estate transfer tax funds. Any other next steps will be discussed in an executive session with the town attorney, said a spokesperson for the town of Vail.
The Tuesday, Oct. 4 meeting begins at 6 p.m. both in person at the Vail Council Chambers (75 S. Frontage Road) as well as online via Zoom (Register at VailGov.com/Town-Council), streaming on the town’s Facebook page or on High Five Media at HighFiveMedia.org/Live-Five.