Vail Resorts, Triumph Development strike deal for 23.3-acre East Vail parcel
What: A 23-acre parcel in East Vail.
Current owner: Vail Resorts.
Prospective buyer: Triumph Development of Vail
Zoning: 5.4 acres is zoned for housing. The remainder is zoned “Natural Area Preservation.”
Why it’s controversial: There’s a small herd of bighorn sheep that use the area as winter range.
VAIL — Vail Resorts and Triumph Development have announced a deal for Triumph to purchase a 23.3-acre parcel in East Vail. That parcel is zoned for both housing and preservation. The selling price hasn’t been disclosed.
The parcel spent decades in ownership limbo. Vail Associates, the predecessor to Vail Resorts, bought the parcel just north of the East Vail Interstate 70 interchange in 1961, and it was annexed into town in 1975. But county and town records over the years had identified the parcel as belonging to the U.S. Forest Service or the Colorado Department of Transportation.
With the ownership cleared up in recent years, Vail Resorts in 2017 asked the town of Vail to rezone the parcel from its original “two-family residential” use. The request — ultimately granted in September 2017 — rezoned the parcel into two zone districts. Most of the land — 17.9 acres — is now zoned natural area preservation, one of the town’s most restrictive zoning designations. The remainder of the property — 5.4 acres — is in the town’s housing zone district. That zoning is also restrictive in terms of town oversight and limits construction to deed-restricted housing.
The request to rezone the vacant parcel was controversial. Opponents argued that the property is critical winter habitat for bighorn sheep and, thus, unsuitable for development. Vail Town Council member Kim Langmaid, the founder of Walking Mountains Science Center, has more than once stated her strong belief that building on the site would doom the small herd.
Rezoning supporters argued just as passionately that the town’s need for employee housing should take precedence and argued that the herd could still be protected.
Wildlife and housing?
In a news release announcing the deal, Triumph Development Principal and Chief Operating Officer Michael O’Connor is quoted as saying he believes Triumph can build housing and enhance wildlife habitat on the property.
While work on the project has just started, O’Connor said in a telephone interview that Vail Resorts has done “what looks like a pretty good wildlife study.”
O’Connor added that planning for the parcel would include more studies — including just how many units the 5.4-acre parcel might hold — as well as public outreach.
“Our approach is to find the right balance between community needs and neighborhood concerns,” he said.
While Vail Resorts won’t own or develop the property, the agreement with Triumph includes a provision for the company to master lease a portion of whatever is built. Ultimately, whatever is built on the site will be part of Vail Resorts’ 2015 commitment of $30 million toward workforce housing projects in the communities in which it operates.
“This is not just a Vail Resorts project, it’s a locals’ housing project,” O’Connor said.
A familiar developer
Triumph has done a significant amount of work in Vail, including the Chamonix townhome neighborhood in West Vail. O’Connor noted the company is familiar with the town’s people, processes and politics.
East Vail resident Penny Wilson attended several of the hearings regarding the East Vail parcel. Wilson said having Triumph as the developer is an advantage over having an out-of-town firm involved with the project.
“It’s good to have someone who’s a known entity,” Wilson said. “They know the town, and we know them as a developer.”
Wilson said unless development is “super sensitive,” the bighorn herd is in danger. And, she added, wildlife experts have stated in meetings that human-created remediation plans don’t usually work.
Given the opposition to the rezoning request, any development proposal will almost certainly face stern resistance.
But, Wilson said, just about anything regarding the parcel — development or preservation — is going to be controversial.
“I hope the town will work with (Triumph) to create a development plan that’s sensitive to the look and feel (of the area) and minimize the impact on the wildlife,” she said.
O’Connor said that’s a job Triumph is ready to tackle.
“We’re thrilled for the opportunity this presents,” he said. “It can be a meaningful addition to the community.”
And, he added, Triumph intends to have community input shape the ultimate look of the project.
“We’re thrilled to be part of it,” O’Connor said, adding, “We’re going to have to do what we do and do it well.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2930.