Vail Daily column: West Vail will benefit from a new master plan
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a report by the Vail Homeowners Association board of directors. The association keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the Vail community. The electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com.
West Vail Master Plan: Kudos to the Town Council for beginning, again, the long-overdue West Vail Master Plan. West Vail is an area that is critical to Vail’s future. It contains substantial residential areas, and its commercial areas contain Vail’s only gas stations, grocery stores, hardware store and a host of other small businesses, all of which could benefit from a unified plan.
This is not the first time Vail has initiated master planning for the West Vail area. In 2005, Vail began master planning for the West Vail commercial area, between Buffer Creek Road and the fire station on the east and west and North Frontage Road and Chamonix Lane on the north and south. That planning process developed a series of conceptual plans for that area, and decisions were beginning to be made when the potential development of Ever Vail and the 2007 Great Recession brought them to a halt. While the 2005-06 effort was restricted to the commercial area, it remains to be seen what will be the scope of this new effort.
West Vail is, however, much more than that commercial area. There are large residential areas on both sides of Interstate 70 and large areas that face North Frontage Road to the east of Buffer Creek Road that cry out for unified planning. Already, a number of residential areas — Matterhorn Circle/Alpine Drive, Intermountain and other multi-family properties — are being eyed for redevelopment. There has also been talk of adding a ski lift out of the Matterhorn area, which would raise a host of parking and congestion issues.
Vail Homeowners Association believes that all of West Vail will benefit from having a master plan. For the commercial areas, it could provide architectural themes, traffic and parking plans, pedestrian-friendly environments and be a boon to redevelopment, similar to what happened in the village core during the Billion Dollar Renaissance. For the residential areas, it could bring unity and order as redevelopment proliferates.
Rumor has it that some see the West Vail Master Plan as an opportunity to increase residential density by increasing allowable gross residential floor area and allowing larger housing projects, including tax-subsidized housing. Rumor also has it that some would like to increase commercial densities. This should only be done with the approval of the affected neighborhoods. And if densities are increased, any such increases should be tied to capacity, i.e., the availability of water and energy, infrastructure and parking to support the larger densities. Otherwise, increased growth is not sustainable.
The importance of master planning: Master plans provide fundamental foundational basis for long-term development that helps define the character and identity of communities. They serve as community road maps that provide the means to gauge the merits of new proposals. For example, in the absence of a West Vail Master Plan, the recent Roost Lodge redevelopment was able to proceed as a special development district with little or no consideration of a unified development of the area.
Special development districts are the flip side of master planning; they are largely ad hoc, spot zoning, which lacks the cohesiveness of long-range planning. They are mostly standard-less and driven by behind-the-scenes lobbying that is subject to the political winds of the moment, where the tables are often stacked in favor of developers who gather a team of consultants that can overwhelm citizen opposition.
That is what happened with the recent Roost Lodge special development district approval. By the time the revised plans saw the light of day, members of the Vail Housing Authority were already on board and the provision of “affordable” housing trumped density and neighborhood concerns. That is not a process that is beneficial to the long-range future of Vail.
The Vail Homeowners Association board is Gail Ellis, president; Judith Berkowitz, secretary; Rob Ford, treasurer; and directors Jamie Duke, John Gorsuch, John Lohre, Andres Nevares, Trygve Myhren, Larry Stewart and Doug Tansill.