What’s the future of Vail’s Stewardship Roadmap? | VailDaily.com

What’s the future of Vail’s Stewardship Roadmap?

While not quite ready for adoption, council discusses goals for town's plan

Vail's Stewardship Roadmap aims to find the right balance of protecting the town's community, environment and economy.
Screenshot, Town of Vail/Courtesy Photo

While Vail Town Council was poised to consider adopting its Stewardship Roadmap at its Tuesday, April 18, meeting, the discussion pivoted to the plan’s future and purpose.

Vail Town Manager Russ Forrest said that there were “some broader questions about the plan,” one of which was: “How will this plan be used moving forward?”

“This plan is not a land use plan, it’s not a vision plan, it’s not a strategic plan, but it is something that, given the significant public feedback that occurred throughout this and the significant work that staff has made … is valuable,” Forrest said. “We would like to receive some high-level direction on where to go next.”

The near-final Vail’s Stewardship Roadmap, as Forrest stated, is the result of a yearlong stakeholder process that engaged over 1,500 people in public sessions, meetings, focus groups and long-form interviews. Overall, the goal of the plan and the process was to plot a vision for the town’s next 10 years that balances its economy, its residents and its environment.

“It provides strategies to shape a stronger, more resilient tourism economy and manage our visitor patterns,” reads the draft roadmap’s introduction. “It also outlines steps to safeguard and improve our biggest asset — the stunning, irreplaceable natural surroundings that define this place.”

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The Town Council began evaluating the draft plan in December, going through each of the elements to make sure it aligned with council goals and set a sustainable path forward for the town.

While the Stewardship Roadmap is not a planning document or even a vision plan, it does chart five main goals that “take aim at the biggest threats to our continued success, especially the housing crisis that is impacting every aspect of our community life.”

These goals include making Vail more livable through increasing affordable housing; enhancing and strengthening the town’s tourist appeal and economy; invigorating Vail’s spirit by enhancing community opportunities; advancing its environmental stewardship; and energizing Vail’s brand around being welcoming for all.

Each of these five goals has a tangible objective as well as targets and indicators to measure the success of the town in reaching it. It also identifies a handful of actions and strategies by which to achieve each target.

“Every strategy that’s outlined in that implementation plan comes back to the council for further vetting, budgeting, resourcing, timeline, etc.,” said Mia Vlaar, the town’s director of economic development. “You still have the opportunity to make policy based on what these guidelines and recommendations and direction are.”

However, where the plan goes next was up for debate on Tuesday. While town staff and council determined that the plan is still not quite ready for final adoption, there was immense value in its content.

I do think we’re beholden to the people that participated in this,” said Council member Barry Davis. “I think ultimately that’s what this is about. If this information can be shared with those people in a way, but I’m not prepared to enter into anything binding at this point.”

On Tuesday, the council shared specific concerns and edits — some of which centered on the Mountain IDEAL standard — as well as a discussion on what the future of the roadmap, and of Vail, should be.

Is Mountain IDEAL the right standard?

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Throughout the council review of the Stewardship Roadmap, questions have risen around its specific attention to the Mountain IDEAL standard.

The standard falls under its goal of advancing its stewardship, with an identified strategy to “strive to maintain certification to the Mountain IDEAL Standard for consistent global recognition of Vail as a top sustainable destination.”

On Tuesday, Mayor Kim Langmaid gave a brief history of the standard, which harkens back to the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. At the time, Langmaid recounted that someone suggested that Vail become the first certified sustainable destination in the U.S. However, at the time, the sustainable destination certifications didn’t account for certain specifics about mountain resort communities.

“That’s why the Mountain IDEAL was created, was in response to that desire to have something that was more specific to mountains,” Langmaid said. “It’s really all the great things we would be doing anyway with many of the other plans we have, it just has that additional overlay of the tourism economy here, and being cognizant of that and how it impacts our community so that continued tourism can really be a force for good and support the community.”

However, as Davis articulated on Tuesday, “the challenge that I’m hearing from a lot of people is there is a lack of understanding of what it is.”

“It not only needs to be defensible and transparent, but it has to be digestible,” Davis said.

Mayor Pro Tem Travis Coggin also expressed concerns over limiting the town to this certification for 10 years, requesting that the roadmap broaden this strategy to “make sure that we’re always pursuing the highest level.”

“I don’t know if it’s the Mountain IDEAL standard or if there’s a new standard that comes along,” Coggin said. “Is there a broader way to say we’re pursuing these stewardship goals so if there’s a new one that comes along, we look at that, and are comparing and contrasting what’s the right thing for Vail?”

With this direction, staff said the next iteration of the roadmap would come back not only with a broader future-looking direction on the standard but also a more defined summary of the Mountain IDEAL to include alongside it.

Preserving Vail

At the core of Tuesday’s council discussion was how the plan can aid in preserving what made (and makes) Vail, Vail.

“There’s a definite feeling in here that Vail is losing or has already lost what makes it special as a place to visit and to live,” said Council member Jonathan Staufer. “I think we need to get back to some semblance of basics as far as including people, making sure they can afford to live here, making sure they can make a living here. That’s where our future is.”

Staufer added that the Stewardship Roadmap represented a good document to look back at the history of Vail and let it drive to a “deliberate equilibrium” of the environment, community and tourism.

“We have gotten away from a lot of that,” he said. “I think we need to get back a little bit toward the community side of things as opposed to worrying so much about the world-class side of things. If we make it great for us, we’re going to make it great for everybody.”

Part of this, he added, is looking at capacity on streets, on the mountain, on trails, and of water. While the roadmap addresses this somewhat, Staufer expressed a desire to establish a framework around the capacity of the town’s resources as part of the 10-year strategies.

“We have to quickly establish that before we can say we’re anywhere near sustainable,” Staufer said. “If we’re going to say this is a sustainability program and a stewardship program, you have to understand the limits and be able to know where you are.”

As the plan focuses on the town’s next 10 years, Council member Kevin Foley expressed a desire to consider future generations.

“Where are the young kids? Where are the people that are the next bunch coming behind us that are going to help continue to make this place as special as it is?” Foley questioned.

With that, the council also recognized the need for balance between the past and future, because things in Vail have changed.

Coggin noted that since the start of COVID, Vail (as well as many other communities) experienced a significant increase in the number of people getting outdoors.

“We have to navigate a new future where people got outside and realized that they do like what we like,” he said. “I get it — everybody wants Booth Falls trail back in 1988 when I moved here and there’s two cars parked there … we’re never going to see that again.”

The real question, he added: “How can we engage with some of these other governmental partners to deliver the experience that we think is the right experience?”

For Davis, maintaining access to the outdoors is vital to the future of the town and roadmap.

“Vail is extremely unique because we have this little urban community surrounded by wilderness. One thing that makes Vail extremely special is access,” Davis said. “If we’re looking to build environmental stewardship and environmental allies, it starts with people getting access to public lands through our town.”

Looking ahead at the future for the roadmap, it is expected to make it back to the council for adoption. Forrest said the staff would address specific comments; get something in black and white about the Mountain IDEAL standard and return with a resolution that carefully answers: “What are you framing? And how are you framing it in this plan’s adoption?”

There was also some contemplation of soliciting more community feedback or more permanently engaging community members in the roadmap’s actions.

“What’s contemplated is some affirmation of council that this is something you want to do so as we look at future budget documents, strategic plans, the visioning document, there’s some understanding that these ideas and actions should move forward,” Forrest said.

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