Vail Homeowners Association: Geological issues with East Vail housing proposal
September 8, 2017
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. Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.
Last week, the Vail Homeowners Association reported on environmental issues concerning Vail Resorts' application to subdivide and rezone 23.3 acres of East Vail property to create a housing project on the eastern 5.4 acres of that property. There are also major geological issues involved with any development of that property.
• Rockfall potentials and required defensive barriers: There is a significant cliff band perched above the Vail Resorts property. According to a Rockfall Hazard Study filed in support of the Vail Resorts application, it is not a matter of if, but only when rockfalls will come down.
To protect from rocks up to 10 feet in diameter — there are some boulders on the site that are up to 20 feet long — a defensive barrier at least 12 feet high would be required along the north side of the property together with at least a 10 feet wide catchment zone and a down slope buffer zone between the barrier and any structure. All together, it would amount to a 35 feet or more wide swath that would require additional clear cutting and earth movement, which would add to the destruction of wildlife corridors and habitat all across the property.
• Other geologic issues: Although not within the scope of the rockfall study, the study notes that due to upland conditions, a significant precipitation event could trigger a debris flow, which has already occurred nearby in Booth Creek. This is a no-win situation for the environment, since mitigation cleaning of the upland would increase the rockfall hazard, requiring more substantial defensive structures.
The study does not, apparently, consider landslides to be an important concern, even though in the past, a major landslide did occur through the center of the property, rendering most of the tract undevelopable (so that Vail Resorts is not giving up anything by offering to rezone the eastern 17.9 acres of the tract as natural preservation land). The "toe" of that landslide rests behind a retaining wall at the Interstate 70 interchange bus stop (the retaining wall is in need of repair).
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Upslope soil stability could, however, be an issue, since there are several rivulets and drainages in the area, which could cause soil saturation and instability. In addition, ground undercutting for rockfall defensive barriers or development could, also, destabilize the area. This suggests that much more work would need to be done to analyze the real landslide potential. Nonetheless, it seems a reasonable conclusion that mitigation for the geology of the area will further contribute to environmental degradation and wildlife compromise.
• Vail Resorts' response: The principle thrust of Vail Resorts' response to the Vail Homeowners Association initial report on this project ("Clarifying potential new employee-housing project," Vail Daily, Aug. 22) was that Vail needs more workforce housing (if any is left over after Vail Resorts' needs, it would be made available to the public), and its property is a great location.
But the Vail Homeowners Association believes there is more to it, that issues of neighborhood integrity, environmental impact, geological concerns, infrastructure effects and quality of life should all be considered.
As set forth in section 12-12-2 of the Vail Town Code, long-term protection of the environment has long been a guiding criteria for land use and development decisions. This proposed project invokes the majority of the concerns set forth in that code. In addition, a large-scale housing project would be in marked contrast to the existing area and could overload the transit system, requiring more town of Vail investment.
The Vail Homeowners Association urges that careful and thoughtful consideration of all relevant issues should be the order of the day, and if that requires more time, then the process should be slowed down to allow for the best decision for the Vail community. The town of Vail might be well served to consider this application in conjunction with its review and revision of the Comprehensive Open Lands Plan and/or after requiring an independent environmental impact study.
The Vail Homeowners Association board is Gail Ellis, president; and directors Judith Berkowitz, John Gorsuch, John Lohre, Andres Nevares, Trygve Myhren, Larry Stewart and Doug Tansill.
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