Vail’s Booth Heights proposal vote delayed for two weeks
Developer asks for time to make adjustments to housing project proposal
- The current Booth Heights proposal includes:
- 42 deed-restricted, two-bedroom apartments. Vail Resorts will master lease 36 of those units.
- 19 deed-restricted townhomes.
- 12 unrestricted townhomes. Town zoning allows those homes to subsidize deed-restricted units.
- The next Vail Planning and Environmental Commission meeting is Aug. 26 at 1 p.m. in the Vail Town Council chambers.
VAIL — The proposed Booth Heights housing development in East Vail will get at least one hearing before the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission. That hearing is set for Aug. 26.
As commission members spoke Monday near the end of a roughly six-hour meeting, it became apparent that the proposal would be rejected by the seven-member group. That’s when Michael O’Connor, chief operating officer of Triumph Development, the potential developer of the site just north of the Interstate 70 East Vail interchange, asked for the hearing to be continued until Aug. 26 so his firm could make some adjustments to the plan.
Commission members expressed worries about the size of the proposal — 73 units of rental and for-sale housing — as well as what they believed to be inadequate parking. Members also worried about potential geological hazards at and above the site, as well as the potential danger to pedestrians at the Interstate 70 East Vail interchange.
Commission members also reiterated worries about the fate of a herd of bighorn sheep that uses land near the 23.3-acre site as critical winter range. Those concerns have been near the top of opponents’ complaints since the property was rezoned in 2017.
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Triumph has submitted a plan to help mitigate the project’s effects on that herd — which includes work on both private and public land and a $100,000 contribution to funding that work. But commission member Rollie Kjesbo said “I don’t know how you convince me” that the herd won’t be irreparably harmed by the development.
A roundtable of wildlife biologists hired by the town recently issued a report stating that the best way to preserve the herd is to avoid building on the property. Failing that, the group issued several recommendations to help preserve the herd.
The recommendation to not build on the site wasn’t included in the town planning staff’s report to the commission.
Vail Community Development Department Director Matt Gennett told commission members that the no-build recommendation wasn’t “directly relevant” to the application being considered.
While that comment drew several snorts of derision from the packed room, Gennett went on to explain that the property is zoned for development and has been for 45 years. The town has an obligation to review this application using applicable town regulations, Gennett added.
Commission member Karen Perez noted that a no-build recommendation would amount to a town “taking” of private property.
In fact, town staff recommended that the commission approve the application. A report to the commission noted that the Booth Heights proposal meets the primary criteria for approving a project in the town’s housing zone district. Those criteria include design, open space, pedestrian and vehicular circulation and environmental impacts.
Staff recommendations included banning dogs from all rental and for-sale units on the property. Only service dogs and registered support animals would be exempt from the ban.
Big public turnout
John Ervin, one of more than 40 people who commented on the plan at the meeting, said he doesn’t believe a prohibition on dogs would be effective. Unaccompanied dogs are a “constant” where Ervin lives, he said.
“Dogs are going to be there,” he said. “My daughter has a (Yorkshire terrier), and it chases bears.”
In addition to questioning the wildlife plans, other members of the public questioned how safe the Booth Heights site is from rockfall and avalanches.
While Triumph has proposed a rockfall berm 12 feet high, resident Charlyn Canada said, “the forces of nature dictate this high-risk slope should belong to nature.”
While project opponents provided much of the public comment in previous meetings, a number of supporters — many of whom are Vail Resorts employees — came out to lobby for the plan.
Carlos Robles said “I wouldn’t be here” without employee housing, adding that a place to live was essential to his moving to Vail.
Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Beth Howard told commission members of her own struggles to find housing, dating back to her first trip to Vail in 1985.
Ben Gilbert and Jeff Kennedy, two of the founding partners of Moe’s Original Bar B Que, both told commission members their Vail location is critically low on staff.
Kennedy told commission members that the Vail location wasn’t open for dinner Monday because there was no one to operate the restaurant. Kennedy said that the restaurant has lost “at least” $57,000 in revenue since June 1.
After hours of presentations and public comments, commission members for the first time expressed their opinions in anticipation of a vote.
Commission member Pam Hopkins’ remarks focused in large part on the geological problems. Member John-Ryan Lockman said the application is an attempt at “balancing conflicting values.”
In lengthy remarks, commission chairman Brian Stockmar said the group’s responsibility is to try to protect both the environment and approve projects that don’t endanger the public.
“This project endangers people,” Stockmar said, adding, “We need housing, but not here.”
Whether the commission votes to approve or deny the Booth Heights project, it’s almost certain that the Vail Town Council will have the last word.
If the commission denies the application, the applicant can appeal that decision to the council. If the commission approves, a majority of the council can vote for a review of the plan. An “aggrieved” member of the public can also request a council review.
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When a crowd of around 500 people showed up in Vail on Tuesday night to join a protest march in support of Black Lives Matter, the gathering plainly violated Eagle County’s current COVID-19 recommendations.