Letter: Vail can make a statement by preserving parcel
The town of Vail’s Planning and Environmental Commission is now considering a proposal for 73 units on the mountainside parcel that sits at the East Vail I-70 interchange. This tract of land is large and prominent in one’s first and last impression of Vail. This acreage, which has a confusing ownership history, once belonged to CDOT. For decades it appeared on the town’s comprehensive master plan as open lands/space. Now Vail Resorts is selling it to a developer for housing.
Strong opposition exists to building on this site due to it being the rather limited, but critical, winter range of the last herd of bighorn sheep in the area. The parcel is barely enough to keep the sheep herd viable without the addition of hundreds of people, dogs and cars once the horrendously invasive building process is complete.
However, I also think this site is a keystone for the town of Vail It’s a beautiful mountainside and telegraphs Vail’s commitment to open space and our environment per the town’s mission statement. A commitment the town made years ago was to collect a 1% real estate transfer tax on real estate sales with the tax proceeds used to buy and maintain open space in the town of Vail. The Average annual income to the fund is just under $7 million over the past 11 years. The balance in the account is now over $10 million. Over a decade ago the town declared there wasn’t much open space left so those funds should be put to other uses. And indeed they have.
In the past 11 years, the town of Vail has moved approximately $70 million from RETT into projects that would normally have been paid by other departments like Public Works and the Vail Recreation District. It has paid for maintenance and construction of things like streetscape projects, a share of new golf course clubhouse and grounds, much of Ford Park, including Betty Ford Alpine Garden pledges, managing beetle kill and forest fire prevention, water issue management/remediation, bike path and frontage road shoulders and all other town of Vail recreational facilities.
I suggest that the town of Vail has stopped even looking for open space to preserve because this RETT money has become an integral part of its annual budget. But here is a parcel of land that should be preserved. RETT was designed for this. A master stroke of future planning by a previous council in providing the ability to preserve open space and contribute to environmental stewardship. I urge the town of Vail, Vail Resorts and others to pursue all avenues to purchase and preserve this pristine piece of land and important habitat for a variety of wildlife species for generations to come as a living statement about Vail residents’ commitment to our natural environment.