Vail Valley Voices: Pushback on budget overruns
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the Vail Homeowners Association monthly report. We publish weekly excerpts from the association, which keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the town. The newsletter electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.comPushback on budget overruns: The community is seeing increases between preliminary estimates and current contractor estimates for the cost of town-sponsored improvement projects to begin construction in 2013. A possible explanation is that labor costs rise as the construction workforce is downsized. It is likely that there will be pushback over the potential for cost overruns and non-essential projects to deplete the town’s cash reserves. High cost of high-maintenance guests: Community economic development priorities appear to be shifting away from funding marketing schemes toward the practicalities of infrastructure improvement necessary to handle the rapidly growing clientele of high-end destination consumers who expect higher levels of service and cutting-edge facilities. This emerging reality is new to the community, as it has become accustomed over the past couple of decades to providing for the needs of the less-demanding, budget-minded visitors. If the town of Vail makes shallow, short-term investments, it could find itself in a difficult situation for financing high-cost infrastructure to sustain enduring economic development. Shared values, shared vote, shared responsibility: The town, for the first time in the community survey, purposefully solicited responses from part-time residents who comprised 41 percent of the 6,000 contacts who were solicited. The town received a 10 percent response. Of those, 60 percent were local and 28 percent part-time residents.Interestingly, the similarity of attitudes between local and part-time residents reaffirmed the findings of a survey done nearly a decade ago by the regional council of governments. Both surveys found closely shared values across a broad spectrum of issues. That raises the question of why not create opportunities for a more well-rounded and inclusive community by extending the right to vote to non-resident property owners? Town changed development rules of engagement; residential property owners at a disadvantage: The next time you ask yourself, “Is the town of Vail watching out for my interests as a property owner?” consider the following. Since the November council elections, the town of Vail has changed its rules of engagement in how they deal with neighboring property owners on development issues. In the view of some observers, the town either downplays neighborhood concerns or minimizes the effectiveness of their voice until decisions have become a fait accompli. The intended, or unintended, effect is to disadvantage constructive criticism and minimize the consequences of the increased costs to the town to comply with its own performance standards. There is growing evidence this is being done, either intentionally or unintentionally, on projects where the town is the developer or when it considers itself a benefactor to a particular development. The town is putting affected property owners in a detrimental second-class citizen position by minimizing neighborhood compatibility issues or through compartmentalizing their review process so that neighborhood issues are never comprehensively addressed. The town, from a technical standpoint, is no longer applying at the appropriate time, in the earliest stage of their review procedures, an existing and critically important regulation. This regulation gives the town the authority to require documentary proof that a proposed development or an anticipated land use is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood and is capable of fitting on its building site. Under the rationale of streamlining the approval process, the town’s approach reverses nearly 40 years of employing this regulation, which has in one form or another been applied to all development in Vail. When properly applied, it has resulted in practical benefit to the community, even though at times it has piqued the consternation of developers. Nearly all developers who have needed to rezone have been put through this proof-of-performance process. Redevelopment of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail remains a contentious neighborhood issue: The strategy of minimizing the effects of a rezoning for a proposed redevelopment was first applied by the town during the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail rezoning process. The town downplayed concerns of a majority of adjacent Golden Peak neighborhood property owners in approving a rezoning without first resolving traffic congestion problems caused in part by the use. Neighbors wanted proof that parking and traffic circulation would support the much larger building proposed. Neighborhood concerns include existing Vail Valley Drive traffic congestion from drop-off traffic at the Golden Peak ski base, which could also be compounded by the new Vail Village Gondola and expanded Ski & Snowboard Club facility. Their concerns were brushed aside by the town as a matter for later consideration when the ski club building is ready for development. The town, in the meantime, did agree to meet with a neighborhood study committee to see if mutually acceptable traffic management policies and operational practices can be agreed upon and effectively implemented. Vail Resorts is assessing whether it needs to transfer some of its abutting land to the ski club so that traffic circulation can occur within the building site. It has not released covenant prohibitions that would allow the redevelopment to proceed with 9,000 square feet of residential use, said to be necessary to finance the redevelopment.One Vail council member wants to continue the lucrative valet parking function franchised by the town at the Golden Ski skier drop-off parking lot. Valet service was not part of the original approval for the project. Long-standing problems in the operation of the valet service cause traffic to back up onto Vail Valley Drive, resulting in gridlock. Without having proof from a current traffic study, the councilman is trying to lay the problem on the private residential development built over the past decade in the Golden Peak neighborhood, developments which were all approved by the town. Those on the neighborhood study committee say that conditions have changed. Different management techniques should be applied – for example, another opportunity now exists to provide valet parking on nearby private property. This change would free up the traffic circulation in the Golden Peak drop off parking lot. Importantly, the town is proposing controls over private shuttles and courtesy cars that would limit their access into the neighborhood.
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