Our View: Vail Resorts’ moves in East Vail don’t seem right

Vail Daily Editorial Board

Since Vail Resorts in early 2021 announced it still planned to develop workforce housing on a parcel in East Vail — formerly known as Booth Heights — something hasn’t seemed quite right. That feeling is growing.

The firm in April announced it would build on the property, with the company acting as the developer. That reversed a pattern of several years in which the company used third parties to build both high-end projects and workforce housing.

That didn’t seem quite right.

In the April announcement, Vail Resorts announced its intent to have workforce housing on the site by December 2023. That seemed ambitious at the time, given that the six-month window for earthwork on the site begins in mid-June.

Despite a May 18 Vail Design Review Board decision to approve “minor” changes to the design, the company as of last week hadn’t applied for building permits from the town of Vail. Once those applications are submitted, Vail planners need to review the project to ensure the submittals and plans are complete and meet town codes. Will that process really be done by mid-June? Has a construction company been hired and how long will it take to mobilize on the site?

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Then comes Vail Resorts’ claim that it intends to spend $17 million for the work. That seems almost laughably low. The current Residences at Main Vail workforce housing project will cost at least $27 million, on a site that was far more construction-ready than the untouched 5.3-acre site in East Vail.

Vail Resorts has rallied its local executives and employees to lobby for the project, using, among other talking points, the claim that “luxury homes” are being built in the same area without the review required of the proposed workforce housing complex.

That neighborhood was zoned and platted decades ago. New homes being built there are adhering to long-existing town codes.

It’s also curious that Vail Resorts in late 2020 pulled out of talks intended to replace the East Vail property with something more palatable to the community. The company has recently replied to a May 13 town letter that offered several alternatives to the East Vail site. Virtually any of those sites would be preferable in many ways to warehousing seasonal employees on a site that’s a long way from jobs and shopping for essentials. Vail Resorts’ letter, while offering to find common ground with the town, is also filled with numerous objections to those alternatives.

Then there’s the legal element. Town of Vail officials have launched a process to acquire the site via eminent domain — condemnation. If the required “good faith” negotiations fail, it’s going to be expensive for both Vail Resorts and town of Vail taxpayers to pursue the case in the courts.

There’s also the matter of a May 17 cease and desist demand letter sent to Vail Resorts from Triumph Development. Triumph once had a contract to buy the property, and took the proposal through a controversial town approval process. As part of a subsequent agreement that led to Triumph building the Residences at Main Vail project, the company agreed to withhold its intellectual property from Vail Resorts. The demand letter alleges that Vail Resorts is using Triumph’s plans virtually intact. That could also lead to litigation.

None of this seems quite right. There’s no point speculating about the company’s motives. Whatever those motives are, increasing Vail’s supply of workforce housing doesn’t seem to be at the top of the list.

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