O’Connor: East Vail development a positive for housing — and wildlife
Last week, we submitted our development application for a new neighborhood in East Vail. The plan includes 73 new homes — primarily for employees in Eagle County. This property happens to be the only undeveloped “housing” property in the town of Vail and one of the rare opportunities for a new neighborhood for locals.
The 2018 Eagle River Valley Housing Assessment identified a deficit of 4,000 homes in our Valley. This need spans all types of housing. Our proposed neighborhood will serve a mix of residents — including both rental apartments for our front-line employees and for-sale townhomes for local families.
The townhomes will build upon the success from our recent project at Chamonix Vail with a mix of two- and three-bedroom homes. All these homes will have a garage and ample outdoor space flanking both sides of a neighborhood street. Simply put, we have focused on a plan that prioritizes community rather than maximizing density.
We have spent several months putting together an application that meets each of the town’s criteria for development and we are asking for no zoning variances. The scale of the neighborhood mimics the type of development seen throughout East Vail. And of the 73 homes, only twelve will be market-rate homes that make the project viable.
Like many of you, we value our valley’s wildlife — and in particular the bighorn sheep who range to the west of our site at regular times throughout the winter. Sensitivity to wildlife and its habitat have been fundamental in our development’s planning from the beginning. Every workday this past winter, I made a point of driving out to East Vail to make sure that I understood how and when the bighorn herd uses its adjacent winter range.
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We have engaged the help of an expert biologist to help us understand how to minimize wildlife impacts and enhance the quality of the winter range. Much of the town of Vail’s and Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s current understanding of the bighorn herd and the potential enhancements being considered for the larger winter range comes from our project’s planning.
The good news is there is a list of things that can be done to help improve the 1,800 acres of winter range (which spans from Spraddle Creek to the East Vail interchange and up the Booth Creek drainage) since it is clearly important to our community.
As it relates to our development proposal, we have designed our project to minimize impacts to the bighorn sheep and to make enhancements that will more than offset the footprint of the neighborhood. Our studies of the surrounding wildlife habitat confirm that our 23 acres, while part of CPW’s designated winter range, are not a preferred habitat for bighorn sheep because of the aspen forest onsite today.
The native habitat for bighorn sheep is steep slopes and open spaces. Our site, which is largely covered by a young and encroaching aspen forest, provides winter range and grazing that is of marginal quality. This same condition is one of the challenges faced by the herd across its entire 1,800-acre winter range today.
But with 23 acres, we can create a net positive for the herd on our private property. The development will be concentrated onto 3.9 acres at the front of our parcel. The site plan includes all of our biologist’s recommendations to protect wildlife.
Then, on the 18 acres set aside for Natural Area Preservation, we can clear the aspens and downed-trees and fertilize and prune vegetation to restore this area to high-quality winter range at a 3-1 ratio when compared to the size of the development footprint. We also will make these enhancements the first activity in the construction of the development so that it can be in place before the first winter of construction when the sheep may be in the vicinity.
Finally, we commit to educating our residents about the sensitivity of the surrounding wildlife and creating a comprehensive list of community rules and fines to protect wildlife. This will include restrictions on pets and dogs, and working with the town to prevent trespassing onto the best-quality winter range to our west below the Booth Cliffs and above the existing homes on Katsos Ranch Road.
Taken together, this new neighborhood will make the most meaningful net addition to the town’s local housing inventory, while at the same time make one of the most significant enhancements for wildlife on private property in the past decade in the town. We believe Booth Heights can be the model for environmentally responsible development that helps solve our community’s critical housing shortage for locals.
Michael O’Connor is the principal and chief operating officer of Triumph Development in Vail.