Lamont: The rest of the East Vail development story
Triumph Development presents a rosy picture of its proposed Booth Heights project in the June 8 print edition of the Vail Daily. But based on an extensive investigation, the Vail Homeowners Association has discovered other information that the public should know before deciding on whether the development will really be positive for the community.
First, as Triumph’s Environmental Impact Report concedes, there will be an irreversible loss of habitat and displacement for the East Vail bighorn sheep herd and other animals. Triumph understates the harm from that loss, but for the sheep, the development will probably be an extinction level event. That is because the sheep are already severely depressed, and the project will result in the loss of up to 30% of the sheep’s winter foraging range, which is critical in the winter because the sheep then are in their most vulnerable state, and even small losses of habitat can push them over the edge.
Triumph’s claim that the sheep have a range of 1,800 acres is at best a misstatement. The 1,800 acres includes the Town of Vail bus maintenance facilities, all of the Booth Falls housing and related infrastructure and rockfall barriers, the Vail Mountain School campus and related housing and other areas that haven’t seen a sheep in years. The true size of the effective winter range, according to Triumph’s own biologist’s study, is “only 15% (266.68 acres)” of that range and it includes the project site.
And the loss of habitat would be much greater than just the 5-acre development footprint. As Triumph’s biologist concedes, there would also be “sheep displacement from adjacent foraging areas.” Although he did not quantify that loss, the known “zone of influence” of human activity extends outward several hundred yards in all directions. In addition, the sheep would be displaced from two acres between the project site and Frontage Road. The net result will be loss of upward of 80 acres or 30% of their effective winter range.
Those losses will not be “more than offset” by Triumph’s offer to clean up 18 acres to the east of its project because sheep will not use that area since it is in the zone of influence from human activity at the project, the terrain is a landslide area where the land is dislocated and uneven making grazing difficult and that area hasn’t seen a sheep in years, if ever, and it is folly to think that the sheep could be enticed to move there. Moreover, even if the sheep would move there and there were no human impacts, that area would make up only a fraction of the habitat that will be lost due to the project. This project will, therefore, not be a “net positive” for the herd.
Second, the project will also not be a “net positive” for other wildlife since they will suffer the same loss of habitat, and the project will also shut down the East Vail north/south wildlife migration corridor. This will negatively affect peregrine falcons, elk, deer and black bears, all of which are already severely depressed.
Third, what Triumph didn’t disclose is that to squeeze the maximum amount of housing on the site, there are only 35 parking spaces for 168 to 254 work force employees. It’s likely that more than 35 workers will drive to Vail and who knows where they will park. Triumph plans for them to use public transportation but expects the town of Vail to pick up the costs of increased bus capacity to handle them.
Fourth, at 13.5 units per acre, with a resident population of between 270 and 350 residents, the project is not on the “same scale” or, otherwise, compatible with East Vail neighborhoods. There are no other neighborhoods in East Vail with comparative densities of housing units or numbers of residents.
Simply put, the proposed Booth Heights development has many reasons for concern. One huge concern could be addressed if Triumph immediately proceeded with its 18 acre habitat enhancement plan. That way it would be clear during next winter if it really worked or was just, as many think, a charade to get approval for the development.
Jim Lamont is the executive director of the Vail Homeowners Association, an organization of local homeowners who advocate for the protection of the environment and the quality of life in the Vail Valley.