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Vail Daily column: Finding the right design

the Vail Homeowners Association
Valley Voices

Editor’s note: The following is a report from the Vail Homeowners Association. The association keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the Vail community. The electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com.

The anticipated west wing expansion of the Vail Valley Medical Center is moving through the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission zoning approval process. This is the next step of the expansion of the overall medical center campus, even though the master plan for the area is still under review by the Town Council. The medical center plans to begin construction of this phase of the expansion in the summer of 2015 with completion scheduled for 2017. The proposed design would substantially increase the mass of the overall building by adding a fourth floor on the west wing and add an addition that would be built southward toward West Meadow Drive, which is a cause for concern.

The proposed Vail Valley Medical Center/Evergreen Hotel land swap and subsequent redevelopment of the Evergreen Hotel would eliminate the large surface parking currently used by the medical center by conveying it to the Evergreen Hotel. In return, the medical center would receive hotel land fronting on the South Frontage Road, which would allow all medical center traffic, including trucks, to enter its campus from the frontage road, which is a goal sought by the Vail Homeowners Association and neighborhood residents.

With a new vehicular entrance proposed on the South Frontage Road, the west wing would become the back side of the medical center complex. The proposed design would, however, make West Meadow Drive appear “commercialized” by pushing out toward the edge of the street and eliminating large trees which currently makes the existing west wing more compatible with the West Meadow Drive residential neighborhood.

While the Vail Homeowners Association supports the expansion of the medical center, it believes that it should be done in a way that is responsible and in keeping with the overall qualities of the existing neighborhood. As presently proposed, there are several aspects of the development that could be substantially improved. The proposed west wing expansion would move the building close to the property line which if unmitigated could create a wall effect four stories high.

While a fourth floor would not necessarily render the design objectionable, the Vail Homeowners Association believes that the expansion should be compatible and harmonized with the present buildings and the overall aesthetics of the neighborhood. Unfortunately the present plans would eliminate significant landscaping — a number of large, mature trees — that serve to integrate the medical center into the surrounding neighborhood. The Vail Homeowners Association recommends that any zoning approval should be conditioned upon maintaining the intent of the present Meadow Drive setbacks and landscaping by increasing the amount of landscaping to soften the institutional nature of the building and make it more compatible with the established forested characteristics of this section of West Meadow Drive.

The Vail Homeowners Association also recommends that the design of the west wing should be harmonized with the existing stone and stucco facade of the newest addition to the facility, completed over a decade ago, so that there is a unifying theme in the overall structure as opposed to continuing the hodgepodge of styles that has evolved on the medical center’s campus during the past 45 years. The unifying design theme is a recommendation of the proposed Vail Valley Medical Center Master Plan. The Vail Homeowners Association believes that priority must be given to continuing the practice, begun with the new Four Seasons Hotel; of stepping down the apparent height of structures built along the north side of West Meadow Drive so that views to the mountains beyond are preserved. Medical center authorities have begun to take positive steps to address these concerns.

The town of Vail should extend its snow melt system to serve the pedestrian walkway on the north side of West Meadow Drive to include the medical center. With increasing frequency, Vail Valley Medical Center clients regularly use the West Meadow Drive public pedestrian walkways for rehabilitation therapy. The number of pedestrians on West Meadow Drive public walkways traversing between Vail Village and Lionshead commercial centers has greatly increased in recent years as well.

The Vail Homeowners Association notes that the town of Vail is exponentially increasing the urban density of the West Meadow Drive neighborhood to the degree that it is now on par with major new redevelopments in Vail Village and Lionshead. Yet, the town has not committed to provide amenities or the same level of public improvements such as providing snow-melted pedestrian walkways as it has already installed throughout the Vail Village and Lionshead neighborhoods. The town-owned Lot 10, now a parking lot, at the west end of the street near the library could become a site for an art museum.

Changes are being requested to soften the institutional appearance of the Vail Valley Medical Center proposal in an effort to restore a higher degree of aesthetic compatibility with the adjoining West Meadow Drive tourism circulation corridor and residential neighborhood. The correct design, scale and appearance of new development along West Meadow Drive is essential in maintaining a high standard of guest and residential experience in this important link between the town’s two commercial tourism centers.

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