Vail Valley wonders about Wolcott
WOLCOTT – Rick Hermes and his team worked three years on a plan for property at Wolcott before submitting it to Eagle County officials recently. It could be another five before anyone moves into one of the planned homes. But is the valley ready yet?
Hermes has a deal with land owners George and Chris Jouflas for about 1,000 acres of agricultural land at Wolcott. His plan calls for mostly smaller homes on individual lots, with prices of finished homes ranging from about $250,000 to about $700,000.
During a recent meeting, Hermes laid out the details of the plan. In essence, the plan will create a new town in the valley, anchored by a small downtown area with retail and office space, restaurants, a riverfront park, an amphitheater and a hotel, among other amenities.
The site plan in Hermes office shows bike and pedestrian paths, with ideas for small electric buggies to carry people around and public parking spaces that can charge electric cars.
“When we go on vacation we look around for what we want,” Hermes said. “We thought, why not have these things where people live?”
Hermes says he wants the new community to be as environmentally responsible as possible, with LEED-certified homes and buildings, as well as lots of open space. The original plan calls for about 600 of the roughly 1,000 acres to be left open.
But Wolcott now is almost completely open. Will a brand-new town pass muster with not just decision-makers, but residents?
“The data we have supports the concern people have about protecting open space on the valley floor,” Eagle Valley Land Trust Director Kara Heide said. “I’ve met with (Hermes) once so far, and he’s said he’s dedicated to keeping open space part of the plan.”
Heide said she’ll be interested to see how the Hermes plan deals with the sometimes-conflicting ideas of recreation and preservation along the river.
“The river’s one of our most precious resources, and the community appreciates that,” Heide said.
That’s why Hermes says his plan puts a lot of its focus along the river. The drawings show a beach/park area adjacent to a community park, as well as access for fishing and boating. The idea to make the river such an integral part of the community hasn’t been done in the valley, and only in a few places in the state.
But Heide wondered how much of the property’s river frontage is environmentally sensitive “riparian” areas, and how protection and recreation would be balanced there.
Hermes believes now is the right time to get this new community into the planning stages. He said he has financing for the project for the next three years, and believes that the valley’s economy will be ready for growth by the time this project is approved.
One neighbor is ready to welcome Hermes’ new community.
Patrick Chirichillo got the Vines at Vail project approved in 2007. He’s ready to start work whenever the economy turns and financing is a little easier to get.
“I think it’s a great project,” Chirichillo said of Hermes’ plan. “It could really piggyback on what we’re doing. But it’s at least a two-year project to get it approved.”
While Chirichillo would love to see something to complement his project – which includes homes, a lodge, a winery and retail and office space – a neighbor to the east isn’t so sure.
Fred Green built the Eagle Springs golf course as a private country club with no real estate sales. It’s a rarity. Green said he’s skeptical about Hermes’ plan.
“I understand something’s going to happen on that property,” Green said. “But I would hope it would be consistent with the lower valley – more rural than urban – and this doesn’t fit.”
Green added that he doesn’t think the valley needs another community and wonders if the project makes sense economically.
Hermes, who’s made a career out of building high-end homes, obviously disagrees.
“We’ve listened, we’ve watched, we’ve been patient,” he said. “This is on an interstate interchange, at the intersection of I-70, (U.S.) Highway 6 and (State) Highway 131. This is a big deal. It affords us the opportunity to really do something special.”
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.