Vail’s beleaguered bubble is back
Despite the threat of renewed legal challenges by neighbors who don’t care to look at it – and the lingering question of who should pay for its maintenance – Vail town and recreation officials are preparing to put the bubble back on the driving range at the Vail Public Golf Course, where it has resided for the past two winters.
“We would like to see two sheets of ice in Vail – permanently. For the time being, the “bubble’ is that second sheet of ice,” newly-elected Vail Recreation District board member Peter Cook told the Vail Town Council during a joint session Tuesday.
Cook said the VRD is committed to managing the bubble in Vail, if the town finds a permanent home for it.
Cook said the VRD board, which is currently reviewing individual recreation programs, needs the bubble – known officially as the Vail Ice Dome – to make better use of the newly-renovated Dobson Ice Arena.
“It is necessary for us to run the (ice) program,” he told council members, adding that the VRD is determined to tap into new revenue streams to cover as much as $400,000 in additional bills the VRD has been incurring since the bubble was purchased in 2000 and the arena’s renovated in 2001.
To help pay back a $3.5 million loan for Dobson’s renovation and cover $130,000 in annual set-up and tear-down costs for the bubble, Cook said the board is looking to add as many as 20 additional events to the arena’s usual 30-events-per-year schedule for an extra $70,000 per year.
VRD board chairman Anthony Licciardi also told the council the VRD may raise hourly rental rates for user groups by as much as $25 to $170 across the board to help the ice program pay for itself.
Licciardi, Cook and Julie Hansen, who were elected to the VRD board last month, ran on a shared-platform promise of financial responsibility. They promised that as a new majority on the five-member board, they would maximize individual recreation program’s financial potential and cut back on cross-program subsidies possible.
In order to make room at Dobson for special events, the VRD needs the bubble as a backup for hockey and skating programs, Cook told the council.
Though there are lingering differences over who should pay for the $130,000 seasonal resurrection costs for the bubble, the new majority of the VRD board said they would explore internal solutions to cut down on those expenditures – after town officials swiftly rebuked overtures of cost-sharing.
“It is our cost and it is our intent to live with it,” Cook said in direct contrast to efforts by VRD member Hermann Staufer, who repeatedly implored town officials to “help.”
With the VRD’s commitment to run the bubble, council members now will have to figure out where to put their $770,000 recreational asset and how to assure its return every November until a permanent second sheet of ice has been built. The bubble is expected to last for another five to eight years, depending on wear and tear.
Vail Town Manager Bob McLaurin said a survey of other locations reveals that Donovan Park is “too small and too graded” for the bubble, and a town parcel near the Spruce Saddle trail head lacks parking, storage and public restrooms.
The driving range, according to town officials, is the only place the bubble fits and makes sense.
“Physically, this is the site for (the bubble). It has all the infrastructure,” added Town Councilman Greg Moffet, telling his colleagues that he will support a repeat effort to put the bubble back on the driving range – even if that results in renewed opposition from adjacent homeowners.
Two winters ago, property owners at the golf course sought to halt the bubble’s installation, claiming it posed an undue burden on their lives.
District Court Judge Richard Hart refused to issue an injunction. But this he spring nullified a zoning change for the driving range parcel from “outdoor recreation” to “general use,” ruling the town did not properly advertise the rezoning process.
Because the town had limited the bubble’s initial trial run to two winters, the judge’s ruling came at a time when the bubble’s special use permit was expiring.
Vail Town Attorney Matt Mire told the Town Council Tuesday that despite the failure to make the zoning change stick because of a technical error, “all the boogeymen didn’t really come to pass,” as the homeowners had hoped.
Mire told the council the town could attempt to rezone the parcel again, though that will almost certainly invite a second round of legal briefs.
The homeowners, represented by Vail attorney Art Abplanalp, have maintained that a general-use designation only allows for buildings related to outdoor activities, such as a storage shed for golf course equipment, but does not permit buildings housing indoor activities.
In response to concern that the bubble sets a dangerous precedent for other buildings on the golf course, the council has instructed Mire to research zoning and special-use permit combinations that would only allow for temporary, seasonal structures on the driving range. The council will review zoning options sometime in July.
Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 602 or at firstname.lastname@example.org