Vail’s controversial Booth Heights project now facing legal challenge
Plan would create workforce and free-market housing on East Vail parcel
VAIL — The Vail-based Gore Valley Citizens Alliance announced Tuesday a request has been filed for “judicial review” of the town’s decision regarding East Vail’s Booth Heights workforce housing project. That request was filed in Fifth Judicial District Court in Eagle.
The plaintiffs in the case are four people who were granted standing in the Vail Town Council’s Oct. 15 hearing of the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission’s Aug. 26 approval of the Booth Heights plan: Bob Essin, Tony Ryerson, Betsey Keihl and Debbie Ford King.
Defendants in the case are the Vail Town Council and Triumph Development, the developer of the parcel.
Maya Kane, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said people with standing in the town’s appeal process had to be the ones to take the case to court. That’s because those people had “exhausted every administrative avenue” through the town’s process, she said.
While the number of plaintiffs is limited, the planning board and council decisions were opposed by a number of town residents. Town voters Nov. 5 elected four project opponents to the town council — incumbents Kevin Foley, Kim Langmaid and Jen Mason, along with newcomer Brian Stockmar.
In a release, alliance representative Jonathan Staufer wrote that bighorn sheep have been spotted recently in the vicinity of the East Vail parcel, and that Triumph had “rolled heavy equipment” onto the property.
The sheep herd in the area — and the possible danger to it posed by the housing development — was one of the opponents’ central arguments.
In a telephone interview, Triumph Chief Operating Officer Michael O’Connor said that the equipment on the East Vail site was used to conduct geotechnical boring, and finished work Nov. 12.
Properly on the site
O’Connor added that the work was done in the construction window approved by the planning board. That approval prohibits work on the site between Nov. 15 and June 1.
The Booth Heights housing development is planned for 5.4 acres of a 23.3-acre parcel just north of the Interstate 70 interchange in East Vail.
The plan calls for 30 deed-restricted apartments, 19 deed-restricted townhomes and 12 free-market townhomes.
The Vail Town Council Oct. 15 heard appeals of the planning board’s 4-3 vote to approve the plan. The council upheld the planning board’s decision, also on a 4-3 vote.
The project must still be approved by the Vail Design Review Board before construction can begin. The original plan called for work to begin in June of 2020.
All kinds of allegations
The 20-page complaint makes a number of allegations, including not adhering to the town code and abuse of discretion on the part of town staff, planning board and council members.
The allegations also include a claim of conflict of interest in the case of planning board member John-Ryan Lockman. Lockman is employed by Vail Resorts, which currently owns the East Vail parcel. Triumph and the resort company have a contract for Triumph to buy the parcel, pending town approvals of the project.
Maya Kane, a Durango-based attorney for the plaintiffs, said the long list of allegations is an attempt to convince a judge that the process of approval was improper.
Kane said digging into the process will be important, since no new information will be reviewed.
O’Connor disagreed with the allegations, saying that the town followed its processes, and included mitigation plans to attempt to preserve the herd of bighorns. That includes a $100,000 donation by Triumph to help fund future mitigation efforts on public land surrounding the private parcel.
The judicial review is going to take some time. The defendants have 21 days to respond to the complaint, and there will be other conferences before there’s a first hearing.
Before Kane was an attorney, she earned a master’s degree in wildlife biology, specializing in bighorn sheep. A resident of Durango, Kane said, “I understand the need for affordable housing.” But, she added, “A different site would be better.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2930.