Guest opinion: Correcting the Booth Heights narrative
A significant misconception within our community needs to be addressed regarding the proposed development of workforce housing in East Vail. The recent Vail Town Council meeting where the town ultimately voted to begin condemnation proceedings drew an impressive crowd of community members, including Vail Resorts employees, homeowners and citizens concerned for the welfare of bighorn sheep.
The room had an air of hostility and accusations that overwhelmed the podium — ultimately pitting community members against one another and dividing a council. Subsequent social media posts, letters to the editor and public relations campaigns have portrayed very polarizing narratives on the issue. This is not what this community needs, and it’s worth correcting the narrative.
Aside from a handful of tales from staffers about Vail Resorts’ “good intentions,” most viewpoints are agreeable: We are indeed experiencing a housing crisis, employee housing is essential and bighorn sheep are worth protecting. The issue really is that simple: We need housing, and we need to protect our natural resources (the bighorn sheep).
The problem, however, is the behavior of Vail Resorts officials. The current Vail Town Council has done the proper thing by trying to preserve this vital piece of property, including offering alternative locations for this development. Those efforts to move development away from the parcel in East Vail commonly known as Booth Heights faltered, however, because the town assumed that the ski company had a moral compass and would honor its goal of achieving “zero net operating impact on forests and habitat.”
Vail Resorts was born of this valley. It is hewn from the environment and designed to function within it. It is built off the backs of this community, including those in our own family, who toiled to make it. A community whose hand is now being bit by the mouth it fed and has us infighting over the chaos the company has created.
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Vail Resorts officials made this mess, but want us to believe that it’s the town of Vail who is stifling development efforts and stonewalling employee housing. Vail Resorts leaders want us to believe their “EpicPromise” is a legitimate concern for the environment and wildlife. They want their employees to believe that they suddenly care about them, their housing needs, and livable wages. And they are painting anyone against Booth Heights development as the 1% or NIMBYs.
That narrative is inaccurate, and it’s time to call out Vail Resorts’ hypocrisies and blatant greenwashing. Let’s start the correction there — this is not an argument pitting all Vail Resorts employees and the rest of the everyday people against the 1 percenters. There are plenty of locals and educated Vail Resorts employees who understand the intricacies of this challenge, and are begging their employer to consider building housing anywhere other than Booth Heights. Don’t let Vail Resorts’ propaganda mislead you.
Vail Resorts’ tactical extortion of the town of Vail is repulsive, to say the least, and the behavior should conjure questions by all, especially Vail Resorts employees dispatched to do the company’s bidding for the epic (hollow) promise maker. To consider:
- Why isn’t Vail Resorts utilizing the former Ever Vail property for employee housing? It’s closer proximity to the mountain, it wouldn’t displace any wildlife, it’s more suitable to build on, has a lower environmental impact, and it is not restricted to a construction window of five to six months like the Booth Heights parcel.
- Why did Vail Resorts walk away from the Residences at Main Vail project? This was an olive branch from the town and Vail Resorts simply denied it.
- Why would Vail Resorts knowingly displace wildlife when its leaders so boldly claim to support habitat and the environment? This is a biological issue, not a development issue. Verbatim, Vail Resorts’ EpicPromise claims to have zero net impact on the environment by 2030. Yet decimating a herd of endemic bighorn sheep is excluded from that promise?
- Of the thousands of employees working in Vail, Vail Resorts has only provided housing for as many as 248 employees at First Chair in Lionshead. The company had more than a half a century to adequately address this issue — why now and why here?
Not a single wildlife mitigation plan has ever worked in Eagle County. Why do they think this one will? In no circumstance will wildlife win having a high occupancy development in their winter range.
Bottom line, what is happening is extortion 101, and Vail Town Council members are not the bad guys. Condemnation was the last-resort effort the Town Council could make to save the Gore Range bighorn sheep herd. Vail Resorts is playing a disastrous game of chess with our taxpayer dollars, and it is incredibly close to checkmate. The town of Vail should have been able to condemn this land for a reasonable rate, but Vail Resorts’ grandmaster moves could drive the price of condemnation to outrageous figures.
Was it all part of the game? Do Vail Resorts leaders even intend to develop Booth Heights? Or was this one big power move to double their profits and yet again please shareholders?
Contact CEO Kirsten Lynch and tell her that we need employee housing, but we need wildlife, too. Ask her to lead Vail Resorts into a new generation that will be the partner to the town of Vail that they promised both this community and their employees. Inspire her to become the new face of Vail Resorts by putting the land in a conservation easement (and still getting paid), and forever protect the bighorn sheep.
This can be the legacy of a company that epically promises zero net impact. Bottom line, their employee housing can be constructed, their housing needs can be met, but it needs to be constructed in a more appropriate location that will not sentence the bighorn sheep herd to certain demise. Vail’s wildlife does not have a voice of its own — they need you to speak up for them.
Trey Milhoan is a third generation Vail local and owner/outfitter of Capra Guides. Trey’s grandfather Keith Brown was a founding member of Vail Associates and one of the founders of Vail. Gaby Milhoan has worked for Vail Resorts in various capacities (including management) since 2004. She is a current seasonal employee of Vail Resorts (as of publishing).