Town urges Vail Resorts to consider alternatives for workforce housing project

The town of Vail is holding firm on its condemnation of the Booth Heights parcel in East Vail and is urging Vail Resorts to consider alternatives.

During an executive session at its Tuesday, June 7, Vail Town Council meeting, the council drafted a response to a May 23 letter from Bill Rock, Vail Resorts’ executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Mountain Division. Rock’s letter had questioned the feasibility and timelines of a number of alternative housing options offered by the town in a May 13 letter from the town to the corporation. It also expressed a desire to see the condemnation decision overturned.

The most recent letter from Town Council, dated June 8, responds to a number of Rock’s questions on each property as well as makes the town’s stance on Booth Heights clear.

“It is important to reiterate the majority of the Vail Town Council voted to pursue condemnation of the Booth Heights parcel for a public purpose, nothing has changed in that regard,” the letter reads.

It goes on to state that Vail Resorts has received a letter from the town’s legal counsel reiterating its intent to condemn it.

The letter also includes a May 3 letter from Devin Duval, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Vail district wildlife manager, addressing some of the wildlife concerns at the East Vail parcel.

“Collectively, we should not wait until herds are imperiled in order to drive us to action. It is increasingly necessary to work proactively to ensure that wildlife has a chance to exist not just for us but for future generations,” Duval writes.

And while the town holds firm on the condemnation decision, it also uses the letter to pose a “fundamental question” to the corporation: “Does Vail Resorts want to pursue an agreement with the town of Vail that results in the transfer of the Booth Heights Parcel to the town of Vail in exchange for the town delivering on one or more of the alternate housing actions proposed in the letter of May 13.”

While there were five alternatives proposed in that May 13 letter, the most recent town of Vail response emphasizes two main alternatives to the Booth Heights development. This includes development on the West Middle Creek parcel and/or Vail Resorts’ participation in the Residences at Main Vail, with work on that project already underway.

The town acknowledges many of Vail Resorts’ and Rock’s concerns about many of the unknown details of these alternate solutions — namely housing demand, process, timing and approvals — but says its own track record in delivering other housing projects “should provide confidence” that the town will get the projects done.

“It will not be easy, but what’s at stake makes it worth the effort,” the letter reads.

As Rock had identified a number of concerns and questions on each of the proposed alternates, the town also included a list of responses to these in the June 8 letter.

Residences at Main Vail

As part of the initial proposal, the town offered the option for Vail Resorts to Master lease or purchase all or part of the 72 units under construction at the Residences at Main Vail. In its response, the company had questions on financing and timing as well as questioned whether or not its involvement would take housing away from other employers and employees in the town.

The project, the town said was “on track for completion Sept. 2023,” and that the current financing allows for only 10% of the units to be master leased. As to who units are leased, that would be determined “upon completion of the project” and made available to “interested parties.”

In the May 23 letter, Vail Resorts had expressed trepidation on the leasing of units, stating a preference for ownership of workforce units. In its June response, the town said it was interested in having “mutually beneficial discussions about an ownership structure.”

West Middle Creek

The town of Vail’s initial letter proposed a “land swap” of the Booth Heights parcel for a piece of land at West Middle Creek, which could provide up to 200 beds. Vail Resorts expressed trepidation over some of the unknowns of this proposal.

This included questions on timing — asking that the town rezone it for housing by September — as well as feasibility, including questioning the number of beds that would be allotted exclusively to Vail Resorts as well as if it’s a “fair economic deal” with the number of unknowns at the property.

The June 8 letter identified that the process to rezone the property was already underway, with completion expected by this October. In response to Vail Resorts’ requests for an expedited timeline of entitlements, the letter identified a proposed schedule to do so by October with the town’s Planning and Environmental Commission.

The letter also identifies that the town is currently undergoing analysis on the development of the parcel as well as subdivision and land-use plan analysis. It did also attach, as requested, a 2018 feasibility study of the site.

However, there is still some work to be determined as identified in the letter. The town — in response to questions of it being a fair economic deal and in need of significant design and approvals — said that, “Once the property is entitled, we would have the ability to make the comparison and determine appropriate adjustments.”

The other alternates 

Vail’s initial letter had included three other alternate options: redevelopment of the Lionshead master plan including a potential partnership between the town and Vail Resorts on EverVail; redevelopment of the Timber Ridge project; and redevelopment of the town of Vail’s Public Works Site in East Vail.

While these three projects remain on the table, there seems to be more trepidation from both parties on whether they serve as the right alternates to the Booth Heights development.

On the Lionshead redevelopment, Vail Resorts had expressed both concerns about the complexity of the Ever Vail project as well as continued excitement for pursuing it. In its most recent response, the town attached a draft memorandum of understanding for the project, which provides a framework for the potential future partnership on the property.

For the Timber Ridge project, the corporation said it was “encouraged by its potential but required some answers to determine what its possible involvement could be. In its response, the town answered questions on the project’s details and scope — highlighting that it will bring 300 to 450 beds and that it plans to phase the development in line with the completion of the Residences at Main Vail so as to not displace residents in the process.

While Vail Resorts said it welcomed the opportunity to help on the public works site, it also expressed concerns that the property would face similar community concerns as the Booth Heights project. The town gave no response or additional information on this project in its most recent letter.

With the condemnation of Booth Heights underway, only time will tell whether any of these alternates are seen as viable for the corporation to reach its workforce housing goals.

However, as the town concluded its letter, many details still need to be discussed and, it added, “Unless Vail Resorts is committed to working on alternate solutions, nothing will change, and condemnation will be the outcome.”

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