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Vail Town Council delves into Steward Vail pillars on culture, environment

Council shares vision for community, differs slightly on environmental goals

The drafted Steward Vail plan establishes actions to strike a balance between the town's community, environment and economy.
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The Vail Town Council continued its gradual evaluation of the Steward Vail Plan on Tuesday, looking at community-driven objectives around art and culture as well as environmental stewardship.

Once finalized, the plan will map out the town’s plan for its next 10 years as far as advancing and balancing its community, environmental and economic priorities.

The process to develop the plan began in March of this year. Over 1,500 people contributed feedback through public sessions, meetings, focus groups and in-depth interviews.



At the start of December, the Vail Town Council got its first look at the plan, closely examining the first two of five total strategic pillars. Each pillar represents an overarching goal that is supported by objectives and action steps to reach it.  

At its Tuesday, Dec. 20 meeting, the Town Council evaluated the third and fourth pillars: Invigorate Vail’s Spirit and Advance Vail Stewardship as a Global Model.

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The council will continue to look in-depth at each of the plan’s elements — which include the fifth and final pillar, a sustainability analysis and an optimal value framework — before reviewing the full draft plan in January. Currently, the town is aiming to approve a final Steward Vail plan by its Feb. 20 meeting.

Invigorate Vail’s Spirit

The Hub, as envisioned by an architectural concept from Zehren and Associates. The vision for this center stemmed from the Steward Vail planning process.
Zehren and Associates/Courtesy Photo

The third strategic pillar in the Steward Vail plan centers around recapturing the fun and camaraderie of the town’s early days, according to a staff memo.

“While it was always an uphill climb to afford a home or start a business, many agree it’s never been harder than now to achieve those goals,” it reads, adding that high costs of living, mental health concerns spiking and high rents challenge Vail’s ability to create a strong community.



This pillar sets out to define objectives that will bolster the sense of community and creativity by activating spaces that supply arts, culture and activities opportunities for all.

Cathy Ritter, the founder and CEO of Better Destinations, said on Tuesday that this pillar is really all about “activating priorities that rose up from the community.”

The pillar identifies three specific facilities or infrastructure improvements aimed toward achieving this goal. This includes creating a multi-purpose community, civic and cultural center, forming a marketplace or food hall concept to serve as an incubator for local entrepreneurship, and developing a fitness center.

The idea to bring some sort of community or cultural center spun out of the town’s Civic Area Plan and became more idealized in the Steward Vail arts, history and culture stakeholder group.

Since then, the idea has begun to take more shape as the Vail Cultural Alliance Group. This group presented to the council in October on the need for more community gathering spaces, performing arts venues, museums and more. At the time, it offered a vision for a cultural arts hub located adjacent to the Lionshead Parking Structure.

While many questions remain as to how the town would fund such a project and how it would sustain the long-term operating costs, Ritter added that the idea is one that has the potential to be revenue generating, community supporting as well as build year-round appeal for cultural travelers.

The second space, a marketplace or food hall concept, grew out of Steward Vail’s young entrepreneur group. While it serves as another big-ticket item in the plan, it also fills a need in Vail. Mayor Pro Tem Travis Coggin said that while a food hall concept is an easy place to start the conversation, the core idea is about finding a way to reduce barriers to starting a business in the town (such as high real estate costs).

The third idea to bring a community fitness center was one that Ritter said came up a lot in the planning process as residents were seeking not only a place to work out closer to home, but to build community. While council members saw the value of this, many expressed trepidation on whether it was obtainable or realistic.

“On the scale of all the things our community really needs to tackle, and what we have the time and resources to do in the next 10 years, I don’t know if this rises to the top,” Coggin said.  

This pillar had two other elements, which included finding opportunities to engage the community in Vail’s development (including architecture, green space and sense of place) as well as creating more opportunities for the community to engage in town decision-making.

While the town expressed support for some of the action items in these two objectives — particularly in creating a 101 program on how local government works and how to participate — there was some question as to whether or not other items resonated within the plan.

Specifically, Council member Barry Davis emphasized the challenge of identifying a singular vision for Vail’s cultural heritage, architecture and sense of place given the diversity of experiences between residents.

“The idea that residents want Vail to be Vail is kind of a no-brainer, but my Vail may not look like yours,” Davis said. “Vail is 60 — we’re a young town, we have a great history and I want to respect everyone that’s contributed to this town’s success to this point — but I want to make sure, for Vail to really be focused on stewardship, we need to be more forward focused more than historically focused.”

Advance Vail’s stewardship as a global model

One of the legacy objectives in the Steward Vail draft is to find a mostly-clean energy alternative to its snowmelt system in Vail Village and Lionshead. The system comprises the majority of the town’s operational greenhouse gas emissions.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily Archive

While Vail’s environmental goals are woven throughout the Steward Vail plan, this pillar really represents a focus on its commitment to environmental stewardship.

“Vail’s journey toward sustainability began on its first day as a town,” the draft plan reads.

With the currently proposed plan, each objective in this pillar aims to advance this journey. However, on Tuesday, there was mixed direction from the council on what this will look like.

The first objective outlined is to find a mostly-clean energy solution to the snowmelt system in the villages. Beth Markham, the town’s environmental sustainability director, said this snowmelt system accounts for 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the town’s operations.

While several council members supported Vail’s ongoing search for carbon-free alternatives to its current system, others questioned whether the objective was the most efficient use of time, resources and money.

Davis questioned that, because the possible solutions to this system represent unproven technologies and unknown costs, whether or not Vail’s energy might be better spent elsewhere, tackling more regional and statewide challenges such as commuter traffic and transit.

“This is nice and it seems achievable, but I think if we don’t address how people get here or housing our workforce that might not need to commute here every day … this to me seems like a distraction,” he said.

Council member Jonathan Staufer countered that the town needed to do “everything we can possibly do to cut our emissions,” adding that it includes addressing commuter traffic through housing and other means as well as the snowmelt system, which he added was “something we should address.”

Coggin expressed a desire for this objective (as well as others in the plan) to be more focused on the idea rather than the specific methods of achieving it, as so much is unknown.

“I don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves to means and methods when we agree on the goal,” he said, which was a sentiment that other council members agreed with.

Additional objectives include the following:

  • Building a clean-energy backup system in the case of an emergency interruption of power (something that was flagged as a need by Holy Cross Energy)
  • Making staff and financial investments toward increasing participation and engagement with the town’s sustainability efforts
  • Continuing its efforts to maintain the Gore Creek Watershed
  • Galvanizing collaborative climate action in the tourist sector.

One concept breached by the council during its discussion of these objectives (though primarily the final one) was what Vail’s role should be in the broader context of climate action.

“I love the idea of the ‘advance Vail stewardship,’ and for me, it’s a hard stop after that,” Davis said. “We need to be looking at Vail, and before we’re ready to take it to the world and say that we’ve solved social, economic and environmental issues, I feel that we have a ton of work to do advancing Vail’s stewardship.”

Davis said that he didn’t feel that Vail’s goals in environmental stewardship should be so driven by certifications, but rather by doing the right thing.

“At this point, our brand is doing more for the Mountain IDEAL standard than the standard is doing for us, so let’s do the right thing first and advance Vail’s stewardship,” he said. “At some point, to me, we’re getting so certification-focused that we’re getting off track.”

Mayor Kim Langmaid pushed back on this point, stating that Vail’s involvement in the Mountain IDEAL Standard (which she helped to create) helps make sure the town has maintained its forward momentum.

“This is a set of indicators to help us do the right thing,” she said. “I don’t want to drop the Mountain IDEAL standard because I think we’ve developed a great understanding of it and we are leaders in it, people seek us out to understand how to implement it. It helps us understand where we’re falling short.”

Langmaid later added that the standard helps the town maintain its practice of sustainable tourism, which has widespread benefits.  

“(Sustainable tourism) is really an inward-looking process to make sure that tourism benefits the local community and doesn’t pull from the local community,” she said. “That’s why communities do sustainable tourism, is to make sure it benefits the people who live here and makes them stronger in the process and doesn’t suck the life out of them and that’s something I know we’re all committed to on this council.”

At Vail’s next Town Council meeting — scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 3 — the council will continue its evaluation of the plan. Specifically, it will delve into the final pillar, which deals with marketing) as well as the sustainability analysis and optimal value framework.


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