Vail Daily guest column: What is Vail planning for its open lands update? | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily guest column: What is Vail planning for its open lands update?

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.

The town of Vail currently has three major planning initiatives underway — a review of Vail’s Open Lands Plan, a sustainability assessment and a master plan for West Vail. Together, the product of these initiatives will shape the growth and development of Vail for decades to come. The Vail Homeowners Association believes these are some of the most important initiatives that the town has undertaken in recent times, and it urges all in the community to become informed about them and to speak out on matters of concern.

For 23 years Vail has protected its environment and enjoyed outstanding recreational activities, such as children’s playgrounds, parks, hiking trails and bike paths, through a comprehensive open spaces plan. That didn’t just happen. It was the product of a well thought-out plan that was adopted by the town in 1994. That plan is now under review for a long-overdue update, and some see this as an opportunity to change priorities and/or convert some of Vail’s open space to tax-subsidized, affordable housing. These issues are quickly coming to a head as the town moves to adopt amendments to the Open Lands Plan by the end of this year.

The purpose of the original Open Lands Plan was to identify and develop strategies for protecting and acquiring key remaining natural open spaces in and around the town to protect Vail’s environment, and in certain cases, for use as parks, recreation activities, trails and other public uses. At the time, Vail already had substantial open space tracts, one of the largest being the Donovan Park property, and there was a strong public consensus that preserving open space was a major priority for the community.

The planning process examined more than 350 parcels of land and recommended action to preserve, protect and acquire rights to 51 of those parcels. Included were parcels for neighborhood buffer zones, an amphitheater, athletic fields and improvements to Vail’s trail and bike path systems. The plan also contained a Land Ownership Adjustment Analysis that involved certain boundary adjusting trades with the U.S. Forest Service to establish a common Vail and Forest Service boundary that would encircle Vail with open spaces. A six-year action plan laid out how to proceed. Funding to acquire and manage open space and recreation related activities was to come from the Real Estate Transfer Tax, a dedicated fund that had been established in 1979.

Permanent protection of open space lands was to be achieved by zoning that could not be converted to other uses without a public referendum. The next year town voters, overwhelmingly, approved an amendment to the town’s charter, creating a Designated Open Space category, which requires voter approval for any disposition or other use of such land. A total of 57 parcels have now received Designated Open Space designation, including the Upper Bench of Donovan Park.

While the Middle and Upper Benches of Donovan Park were acquired at the same time, through restricted RETT funds, the Middle Bench was only designated as a town park; it never received Designated Open Space protection. Coincidentally, for some inexplicit reason, after 2005 the Designated Open Space process fell into disuse or maybe even worse; according to town officials, after 2005 there have been no meetings of the Designated Open Space Trustees, and no land has been considered for, much less received, such designation. It raises the question of whether someone decided to quietly scuttle the program.

What you can do: If these are matters that concern you, then get informed and become involved. Government responds to the public; silence only enables others with different agendas to act in your absence. If you are not already a member, then join the Vail Homeowners Association. Together, we will continue to shine a spotlight on these issues that concern everyone.

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.