Vail’s "bubble’ is back and here to stay
“Before the “bubble’ this was a quiet, peaceful neighborhood,” says the petite woman, who has lived in the Sunburst Drive neighborhood in East Vail for the past 12 years and owned property in Vail since 1976.
“Now the “bubble’ is a quality of life issue. It’s great for others, but we have to live with it,” she says of the $900,000 covered ice rink, which the town purchased in 2000 at the urging of hockey and skating groups looking to solve a scheduling strain at Dobson Ice Arena.
The Sunburst neighborhood lost a temporary injunction early on, and the “bubble,” known more formally as the Vail Ice Dome, was set up for two winters, before Eagle County District Judge Richard Hart deflated the “bubble’ based on a technical error.
The town had not properly published all of its hearings, and therefore a zoning change necessary for the “bubble” was null and void, Hart ruled at the end of the structure’s last season in April of this year.
Despite all the legal obstacles and an initial promise that portable ice rink would be a temporary solution, Busse is again looking at what, the group’s attorney flamboyantly called “a beached whale” two winters ago.
Following an amendment to the zoning code, approved by the Vail Town Council Nov. 5, the structure is scheduled to become a permanent feature on the driving range from November to April – this year the tentative opening date is Dec. 9.
While the first conditional-use permit for the bubble had a two-year expiration date, the new permit doesn’t have an expressive life span but requires a review of the inflatable structure every year by the Design Review Board and every three years by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
“It has to do with age,” said Vail Director of Community Development Russell Forrest. “The DRB wants to see it every year in case it becomes tattered or otherwise unsightly.”
Busse says her neighborhood was deceived by the Vail Town Council and is suffering once again from the noise and debris that comes with activities centered on an ice rink that could be there for 10 years or longer.
“The “bubble’ is used mostly from 7 in the morning to 11 at night; unlike golfers they come in groups to use it and they leave it in groups,” Busse says. “They are very noisy and they don’t leave quietly.”
Hockey moms, Busse says, use her driveway to turn around, and yellow snow makes her walk with the dog less enjoyable. It’s all an undue burden that benefits children who don’t even live in Vail, she says, while she and her neighbors pay taxes to the town and the Vail Recreation District.
The recreation district’s Jim Heber, however, says Busse’s complaints are groundless and unfairly directed at the newcomer on the block.
“They are no more noisy than the nordic skiers that have been using that area for years. They are out there hooting and hollering it up too,” he says. “It is a recreational area; there is bound to be people.”
As for parking and traffic, Heber says the structure is less of a strain on the neighborhood than the golf course over the course of a day.
“Yes they come in groups, but the lot is never as full as it is with golfing in the summer; there is much more traffic then.”
For now, it appears the threat of another lengthy and costly legal battle is slim to none.
Vail Attorney Art Abplanalp, who represented the homeowners in their legal battle during the last two winters, told council members the 60 or so homeowners he still represents can live with the current provisions under which the structure is allowed.
“There was no hidden agenda. My clients are making every effort to recognize the town’s challenge and to work with the town to accommodate this type of facility on a temporary basis,” Abplanalp says.
Though the group of “bubble” protesters has shrunk from 76 to about a dozen and does not want to be involved in another lawsuit, Busse says she won’t give up.
“No, we don’t want to live with it,” she says, adding that a real-estate agent recently told her home values could be diminished because of the “bubble” by as much as $100,000 per home in a neighborhood where the average home sells for $2 million. Busse won’t say if she is looking to sell her home.
Aside from noise and the bubble’s impact on her view of the Gore Range, Busse questions the town and recreation districts’ financial considerations, wondering out-loud why the $130,000 in annual set-up and tear-down costs aren’t being used toward retiring the $ 2.5 million debt the recreation district incurred last year when it renovated Dobson Ice Arena. Part of the reason the board and the council forged ahead with the “bubble” two years ago was Dobson’s failing refrigeration system
But the recreation district board this fall asked the council to give the portable ice rink another try to free up Dobson for special events in an effort to help with the $230,000 in annual debt payments from the Dobson renovation.
Busse says the various board have ignored her suggestions for other “bubble” locations and voted without hearing her.
“I’ve been to every meeting,” she says. “They just don’t want to hear it.”
Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz, who two years ago said the bubble would always be a temporary solution, still says it is.
“I disagree that we have not been listening. This was a tough decision for all of us and not one we arrived at lightly,” he says. “But all seven of us (council members) felt that this was an important and the right decision to make for the community as a whole. We will continue to look for a permanent solution – sometimes that just doesn’t happen as quickly as we all would like it to happen.”
If no other places for a permanent, second ice rink are being considered soon, Busse says, she will think twice come next November when five of the seven council seats will be up for election.
“We are just hoping that the town council will change and we can get some people in there that have some aesthetic sense,” she says.
Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.