Vail Daily column: Vote ‘no’ on Skier Building
Editor’s note: This is the first of two parts.
I am writing as a concerned citizen regarding a mistake that the Avon Town Council is about to make with the planned purchase of the Skier Building! I have no personal interest in acquiring the Skier Building, nor am I representing any client who might have an interest in acquiring the building.
I have been a resident of Avon for over 30 years and have served on the Planning and Zoning Commission as a member and as chairman. I was the senior vice president of Vail Resorts Development Co., responsible for the Vail’s New Dawn campaign of the re-development projects, including the Arrabelle.
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I have been involved in the successful development of over 400 projects during my career. I currently provide consultation services in real estate development and project management to a variety of clients, primarily in the Vail Valley.
I have been involved in many recent remodeling projects and have considerable experience in evaluating the condition of existing facilities. I have enjoyed success accomplishing the remodeling goals of my clients without triggering an obligation to upgrade the entire facility to current codes.
The following is a summary of my thoughts after taking a tour with the mayor, town manager and Councilman Reynolds of the current Avon Town Hall and the Skier Building that the town is planning to purchase and with regard to the referendum itself.
For this commentary, here are thoughts on the current Town Hall:
• I was given a tour of the current Town Hall facility for the purpose of demonstrating that the building was obsolete. Councilman Reynolds stated that the building required major repairs (a new roof, new windows and improvements to the HVAC system were mentioned), and that the magnitude of these repairs would obligate the town to bring the entire building up to current building and energy codes.
• I challenged his contention, pointing out that the building code anticipates that repairs can be made to buildings without having to bring buildings up to current codes. The chief building official was present and seemed to concur with my understanding. I pointed out that repairs could be made incrementally over several years and under several different permits to avoid triggering the necessity to bring the building up to current standards. This same opportunity would apply to any other property owner within the town and is not suggested as a special privilege available only to the town. My conclusion is that there is no compelling reason to abandon the current Town Hall building.
• My impressions of the building were that it was in reasonably good condition and that it is under-utilized, with many vacant offices and desks. The town manager shared that town staffing had been reduced under her tenure by 30-plus positions. She shared her desire to digitize all stored documents, which would serve to further reduce the amount of space required. My conclusion is that the town has enough space to function in the current Town Hall facility.
• The Police Department may have outgrown their space on the lowest level of the building, as several Police Department personnel were being accommodated on the upper level of the building. According to the town manager, if the Skier Building is purchased and the Town Hall function is relocated, the police will simply spread out within the otherwise vacant building until such time as they could move to this new, shared facility. The remainder of the current building would be vacant, except for a small portion (limited to 10 percent of the total area of the building) which could be leased to a third party. Because the Police Department must remain at their current location until a new location becomes available, the goal of redeveloping the Town Hall site cannot be seriously considered as justification to move Town Hall. If the town proceeds to purchase the Skier Building, the town would continue to be responsible for the cost to maintain and operate the current Town Hall building in addition to incurring the cost to operate and maintain the Skier Building.
• Apparently, the master plan for the town encourages the relocation of the Town Hall to make way for a “higher and better use” of the current Town Hall property. However, in order to accomplish this goal, the Town Charter requires that the town must initiate a public referendum in order to sell the current building. Further, there is a deed restriction which was placed on the property by the original developer of Avon which prohibits any non-municipal use of the property. My conclusion is that the existing Town Hall cannot be easily sold or redeveloped by the town or by a third party.
I’ll summarize my impressions of the Skier Building in my next commentary. In the meantime, here are some other thoughts on this:
• Regarding the ballot for the referendum that was mailed to each of us, have you noticed that there is no information contained in the mailing to explain the project, the purpose of incurring the debt or even the amount of debt that is being proposed? What is the interest rate? What is the term of the debt?
• We’re being asked to simply vote “yes” or “no” on an undefined question? Perhaps the ever evolving “fact sheet” was intended to inform us. However, facts aren’t always facts, as proponents at the town have had to edit their “fact sheet” at least twice.
• The only information that has become available to the voter is as a result of a few concerned citizens and the Vail Daily bringing this pending acquisition into the light of day. Our mayor has recently disclosed quite a bit of biased information in the Vail Daily in an effort to give this proposal a positive spin. Did you notice in one of her recent articles that the debt limit that the council is seeking is twice the amount needed to purchase and complete the Skier Building? Perhaps that is the amount of contingency that they need, based on their recent performance on the pavilion project.
What is the rush? The Skier Building has been available for over a decade and will continue to be available for purchase in the future, given the flaws discussed above.
Town Hall does not belong in the middle of the retail district any more than the Town Hall for Vail belongs on Bridge Street.
There are no compelling reasons to abandon the current Town Hall, and the deed restriction prevents the pursuit of alternative uses other than municipal uses.
It is inconceivable to me that the town would now be proposing to change the zoning of the Skier Building to abandon the requirement for ground floor retail to suit its own purposes after denying similar requests on at least two previous occasions.
Equally troubling is the town’s attitude toward granting itself relief from the historic and current parking requirements, which would permit the building to be occupied without any assigned parking.
These actions will set a horrible precedent and constitute unethical behavior on the part of the current Town Council. Our council members were elected to represent the best interests of the citizens of Avon.
The town manager works for the council. However, it appears that the mayor and several of the council members are taking direction from the town manager.
Clearly the council should terminate the purchase agreement and reconsider this transaction. I urge you to join me in voting “no” on this referendum.
Jack Hunn is an Avon resident.
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