Donovan: Housing, child care and sheep
There is no creativeness in the predevelopment agreement between the town of Vail and Triumph Development to build housing on a town-owned site just east of the the Middle Creek Village apartments to avoid development of the Booth Heights parcel in East Vail. The document reads as though the default developer wrote it over a few beers with the many housing special interests.
The owner of the Booth Heights parcel, Vail Resorts, has not been involved. The default developer, Triumph, has development rights to a parcel it does not own. The Booth Heights parcel was hastily rezoned without addressing the herd of bighorn sheep that call that land home. It would probably behoove the town to buy off these two parties and start work free of those limiting factors. The town could then think outside the box.
The Children’s Garden of Learning, a premier early childhood education center, now located on Lot 3 in Vail, does not have to move from this perfect location. I believe they serve more than 60 families so that the parents can go to work. That replaces an entire housing project!
The parents are ideal employees who already have housing, so you get a two-for-one benefit for the town at a hugely lower price. The qualities this site provides for Children’s Garden of Learning cannot be duplicated in Vail: sunny exposure, just off a roundabout, immediate access to natural area, plenty of parking exclusively for them and a safe, charming building.
Councilmembers have stated the building does not meet code, but that is true of all of our homes and even the council chambers. The state licenses child care and the state determines if the building is safe or closes it down. Councilmembers have stated the relocation of Children’s Garden of Learning to the east end of the Lionshead parking structure is enthusiastically welcomed by the daycare, but that is only in the face of threats to just throw them out of their current location if they oppose the move. The town will build a temporary modular structure but Children’s Garden of Learning has to cover all the moving costs. I believe this valuable asset will be forced to leave Vail in five years. Instead, the town could leave Children’s Garden of Learning in the current location and add a small amount to the existing structure so Children’s Garden of Learning can accommodate a few more children, thus freeing even more people who already have housing to work. Moving Children’s Garden of Learning is a huge expense to the Vail taxpayer and terrible for the families and children it serves. The current proposal defies common sense.
The east end of the Lionshead Parking structure would better serve the town as employee housing.
The reason providing housing is so difficult in the Gore Valley is the ridiculous value of land in the Gore Valley because it is so limited. The redevelopment of the east phase of Timber Ridge with so much surface parking and so few units because they didn’t have the money to “do it right” was inexcusable. The west phase must be done right and could be the final housing project to be built by government in Vail. Structured parking must start below the level of the frontage road and the height could be what is necessary to meet the housing need. Modular building blocks are probably not appropriate. It must be put out to bid.
We need more creativity than has recently been shown and a panel of citizens and the Town Council must be included. That panel would bring a proposal, based on a list of goals from council, to the town’s process. We don’t want another barracks-looking building on the north side of our valley.
At this point, the bighorn sheep are not protected at all and the town of Vail is covering almost all of the immediate costs of improving their habitat.
In summary, buy out those involved in Booth Heights, leave Children’s Garden of Learning on Lot 3 and add a little square footage, form a citizen’s panel to oversee the maximum redevelopment of the west side of Timber Ridge which must be put out to bid. Each of these steps will accommodate more employees for Vail at reduced costs while the town retains the land. Plus it would protect our open spaces from being rezoned for housing.
More discussion is needed, which has been missing in this entire process.
Diana Donovan served on the Vail Town Council and has been involved with environmental issues and wilderness protection since she came to Vail in the 60s.