Vail Daily column: What is Vail planning?
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.
An interesting sidelight to the 1994 Open Lands Plan was that, at that time, Vail town planners estimated the town was appropriately 90 percent built out, and there was room for only about 950 more dwelling units. By 2010 — 16 years later — more than 1,800 additional units had been built. Now, planners are envisioning ever-increasing densities.
In the town’s current Transportation Plan, there is a projection of an additional 2,000 new residential units in Vail. With no available land to accommodate such exponential growth, the only way that scale of expansion could occur is through increased densities and more super-sized projects. This raises major sustainability issues.
Many of the goals and action items of the ’94 plan have long since been accomplished, and an update of the plan is long overdue. Kudos to the Town Council for launching this initiative — hopefully, this will result in reactivation of the designated open space process. But at the same time, diligence is called for so that the purpose of open space doesn’t get hijacked.
The new, updated Open Lands Plan: The new, updated plan, probably in the form of an amendment to the existing plan, is moving rapidly, with a draft plan due to be released in September and final approval slated before the end of the year. All of the action items from the ’94 plan are being reviewed, and additional action items, to further environmental goals, will be considered.
The public-comment part of the process is now nearing completion. Thus far, comments indicate that acquisition of lands for protection and preservation continues to be a top priority for the community: The middle bench of Donavan Park should receive designated open space protection; there was a clear no to using Real Estate Transfer Tax-funded town open space land for tax-subsidized housing, and there is a need to improve and extend town recreation trails.
There are still, however, no specifics about what will be proposed, so the extent these community views will inform the final plan remains to be seen.
Converting open space into developable land: Notwithstanding the public opposition to using open space lands for tax-subsidized housing as Vail Homeowners Association first reported last year, there has been a movement afoot to convert open space into tax-subsidized housing, either by acquiring U.S. Forest Service lands or by using the middle bench of Donovan Park. The Town Council has already hired a consultant, specific parcels have been identified and site visits by the Council have taken place. All of this was done out of public view and knowledge until the Vail Homeowners Association reported it last November.
As Vail Homeowners Association reported, it would be difficult and expensive to acquire Forest Service land for that purpose. But of greater concern is the fact that the middle bench may now be on the town’s shopping list. Even though (or perhaps because) it is one of the largest open spaces within the town, it is a prime target for conversion to tax-subsidized housing. This, notwithstanding the fact that it was purchased with restricted Real Estate Transfer Tax funds, and in the early 1990s, a similar proposal was beaten back by neighborhood opposition.
Rumor has it that those plans may now have been nipped in the bud, but so far, there has been no official acknowledgement of either the original plan or its abandonment.
In the meantime, other efforts to convert open space to private use have been beaten back (at least for the time being). Just last year, there was a complicated land sale proposal that would have transferred covenant-protected open space land at Vail’s front door to a private developer, the so-called Kindle House proposal. The proposal failed before the Town Council, but that doesn’t mean that it will not resurface.
In short, protection of open space land is a continual process.
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.