Vail’s ‘rebirth’ slowed by state?
VAIL ” For the past three weeks, the Solaris project has been still.
There are no big yellow trucks digging there, and a pond of water has formed in the center of the dirt lot where the Crossroads building stood for 30 years.
J.T. Thompson, who owns the Bag and Pack across the street, wants to see the bowling alley-movie theater-condo project ” approved by a townwide vote last year ” get finished.
“It just prolongs the effect of the business disruption,” Thompson said.
Solaris is waiting on a permit from the state Colorado Department of Transportation, which oversees the bordering frontage road. And the department of transportation, in turn, must coordinate with the Federal Highway Administration, which also oversees the frontage road.
Vail developers say they’re frustrated by the time it’s taking to get the permits, and are uncertain about how much longer the permits will delay their projects. Apparently, the department of transportation is still establishing procedures for issuing the permits.
Representatives from the department of transportation did not return a phone call for this story. An official from the Lakewood office of the Federal Highway Administration did not immediately return a phone call.
At least two Vail projects ” Solaris and the Four Seasons ” have at times been stalled because of department of transportation permits.
And other projects in Vail’s “renaissance” ” including the Ritz-Carlton, Ever Vail and the Vail Mountainview Residences ” may also need the permits because they are adjacent to the frontage road.
The planned buildings that may need the permits represent more than $1 billion in construction. Vail is undergoing a “renaissance” that leaders hope will transform the town and resort, which has shown signs of aging as it has approached 45 years in age.
The projects need up to three permits, or leases, from the department of transportation: one for underground work ” such as using soil nails ” that is necessary for shoring; one for “surface” work that’s necessary for staging equipment; and one for airspace rights that is needed to operate cranes.
“Yes, they have caused us delays,” said T.J. Brink, a representative for the developer of the $200 million Four Seasons project. “If they continue to create new additional hurdles, yes, it’s going to delay the project.”
At the same time, Brink said, getting permits with the department of transportation has been similar to dealing with other agencies for other projects in other states.
“It always takes longer than you want it to, but they’re doing the best they can,” Brink said.
Brink’s project has gotten one department of transportation permit, but is seeking at least one more, he said.
The Four Seasons, originally supposed to open in June 2008, is now slated for completion in the fall of 2009.
Solaris applied last March for the permits, after being asked by the department of transportation to hold off for several months, said Craig Cohn, director of sales and leasing for Solaris.
They expected to get the permits by early to mid-summer, he said. Solaris’ completion date hasn’t been delayed yet, but the project’s contingency time is being eaten up, he said.
“To me, it’s frustrating because we feel we’ve tried to be as organized and pre-emptive as possible on the issues that have come up during the process,” Cohn said. “We’re just anxious to get the project under way.”
The procedures, such as using the soil nails, are commonplace, Cohn said.
“This is very routine work,” he said.
Cohn said he doesn’t know when the department of transportation will issue the permits.
“We’re doing everything we can, but it’s out of our hands right now,” he said.
The department of transportation is still trying to establish procedures for issuing the permits, said Greg Hall, director of public works for the town of Vail.
“Some of this, they don’t have procedures on,” he said. “This is somewhat new stuff in some areas.”
Approvals have to be shuttled between the department of transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, further slowing the process, Hall said.
Meanwhile, it seems the department of transportation doesn’t even want responsibility for the frontage road. Earlier this summer, the department of transportation representatives approached the town of Vail about handing over the roads to the town.
The town would be taking on significant costs if it took over the 11 miles of roads, including paving and plowing.
“It’s a complicated issue,” Hall said.
The town already projects a $25.8 million deficit over five years for its capital budget.
“I think town of Vail should have taken that road over,” Brink said, adding that he understands the how the additional costs to the town would complicate the issue.
Ron Byrne, developer of the Vail Mountainview Residences on Gore Creek, which is now being built adjacent to the frontage road, said he’ll need a subsurface-lease permit from the department of transportation to proceed as planned.
However, he has an alternative method that he could use if he can’t get the permit. Still, it would be faster and easier if he got approval from the state department of transportation, he said.
For other projects, it’s a much more serious problem, Byrne said.
“For some of them, it’s critical,” he said. “It’s a do-or-die situation for some of the projects.”
Keith Fernandez, president of Vail Resorts Development Company, said the company is working with the department of transportation for its Ritz-Carlton Residences project.
So far, the project hasn’t been slowed because of the permits, he said.
“We’ll need it at some point, but I think we have some time,” Fernandez said. “If we don’t have it in a year, that’s another question.”
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.