Letter: Vail employee housing at what cost?
All indications are that the East Vail employee housing project is already on a fast track despite the fact that no formal application has been submitted, and it appears from the minutes of the Vail Local Housing Authority that the developer is in closed-door negotiations with the town for what could be a multi-million-dollar expenditure of town funds for deed restrictions.
And, the direct funding being sought from the town may only be the tip of the iceberg. Indirect subsidies could be even more. Although it is highly likely that a new bus stop and related frontage road traffic improvements costing millions of dollars may be required, employee housing is exempt from the transportation impact fee, leaving the town to foot the bill unless it negotiates payment from the developer. Further costly improvements to the I-70 East Vail interchange may also be required.
And, there is also the financial impact on the town transportation system. Many residents of the proposed project will have to take one bus to reach their jobs in the village and two buses to reach shopping and other services in West Vail. Adding hundreds more riders will probably require major capacity increases — buses, drivers, maintenance, fuel, insurance, etc. — that might cost additional millions, with the town left to foot the bill unless, again, the town requires the developer to cover those costs.
Beyond that are the environmental impacts. The project is slated to cover the entire parcel of land, creating a literal barrier for the iconic bighorn sheep herd (30 to 40 animals) that now uses the area. There is much local handwringing over the loss of wildlife habitat and open space, but the “holy grail” of employee housing routinely overrides those concerns. Hypocrisy? And although lip service has been paid to the idea of improving sheep habitat, it is clear that any such improvement should precede rather than follow the development, and that appears not to be under discussion.
Finally, the developer’s preliminary plan shows that it wants to squeeze 400 to 500 residents onto the site, with in-your-face surface parking and multiple five-story buildings disfiguring the hillside where a beautiful forest now meets the gaze of drivers entering the Valley from the East — and this despite the fact that the tallest buildings east of town are only three stories.
Yes, employee housing is a need for the town, but not anywhere and certainly not at any cost. The proposed project is a bad idea — bad for the environment, economically bad for the town of Vail and bad for the employees who would live there.