Forest Service OKs Vail land swap
VAIL – A land swap that will put hundreds of acres of wildlife habitat in public hands and let Vail Resorts proceed with its “Front Door” redevelopment project has received a green light.The Forest Service will get land at Vassar Meadows south of Eagle and at South Game Creek on Vail Mountain, and in exchange, Vail Resorts will get about five acres of land near the base of the Vista Bahn. Open space advocates call it a good deal for all sides.”It’s terrific,” said Cindy Cohagen, executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, a conservation group. “It’s a win for the community, a win for conservation efforts and a win for Vail Resorts.”Vail Resorts plans to build on the property as part of its $75 million Front Door project. The project includes 13 four-bedroom homes which will be wholly owned; plus, the project includes underground parking and a skier services building that will include not only storage but ticketing, ski school, restrooms and other services.
The Lodge at Vail also plans an expansion for a spa. Construction is expected to begin on the projects after this ski season.Martha Rehm, senior vice president and general counsel for Vail Resorts, said the company is pleased with the approval.”The decision, now in the appeal period, is an important milestone in the proposed Front Door project, and is a key component to continuing Vail’s New Dawn,” she said.Both sides of the swap have to be of equal value. The Forest Service said the land at the Vista Bahn is worth $5.6 million. The South Game Creek land and Vail Resorts’ 357 acres at Vassar Meadows are worth $5,571,250, the Forest Service said. The Forest Service will have to pay Vail Resorts $28,750 to equalize the swap.The land at Vassar Meadows includes 117 acres donated by the Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund’s 117 acres were going to be used to help equalize the value. They weren’t needed, but the Conservation Fund donated the land anyway.
A little for a lotThe acquisition of the Game Creek land helps ensure it won’t be developed. It is a wildlife habitat and includes streams and wetlands, the Forest Service said in the decision.The acquisition of Vassar Meadows protects wetlands that purify and provide water to Eagle.”It’s a beautiful parcel with meadows and wildlife,” Cohagen said.Steve Rinella of the Forest Service said the land at the Vista Bahn is too heavily used by the ski resort to be good Forest Service land.
Vail resident Luanne Wells, who owns a condo in Vail Village near the Vista Bahn, has challenged the value of the property at Vail Mountain in the past. An independent valuation paid for by Wells placed the value of the land at the base of Vail Mountain as just over $50 million. Neither Wells nor her spokesman could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A San Francisco law firm, Environmental Advocates, which submitted comments to the Forest Service questioning the swap, also could not be reached Wednesday.The swap is subject to a 45-day appeals period. If no one appeals, the swap could be final five days later.Several years ago, the ski company was working on a deal to swap Vassar Meadows land for a 480-acre property between Singletree and Avon. Vail Resorts wanted to build affordable housing on 40 acres and donate the rest to the Eagle Valley Land Trust. The deal later fell apart.Edward Stoner can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 14623, or at email@example.com.
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