Vail residents turn out to back Town Council against Vail Resorts

Scott Miller
Vail Daily
Several Vail residents and Vail Resorts representatives gathered Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022 as the Vail Town Council voted to impose a moratorlum on issuing any permits for a 23-acre site in East Vail the resort company wants to use for housing.
Kris Widlak/Courtesy photo

VAIL — A number of residents Tuesday, Sept. 6 came to town hall to show support for the Vail Town Council’s decision to acquire by condemnation a parcel in East Vail.

The Vail Town Council kicks off every meeting with citizen participation, in which anyone can talk about anything that isn’t on that evening’s agenda. Those comments are usually brief, and cover a range of issues.

Tuesday’s comments had an overriding theme: the council’s condemnation action against Vail Resorts for the 23.3-acre parcel commonly known as Booth Heights. Several residents urged the council to stay strong in the process in the wake of Vail Resorts last week filing suit against the town to challenge the council’s Aug. 2 passage of an emergency ordinance that prevents issuing any work permits on the property.

Debbie King Ford, a longtime opponent of building housing on the site, said she’s hearing a “groundswell” of support from residents who want to financially support any town purchase of the property. King Ford said she believes a grassroots effort could “raise millions” to purchase the property.

Use the transfer tax

King Ford noted that the town’s real estate transfer tax was created to provide funding for open space purchases and improvements. The tax collects 1% of the price of every real estate transaction in the town.

Town Finance Director Carlie Smith in an email noted that while $10.4 million of that fund is earmarked for programs and projects, estimates show the fund could have a balance of $17.6 million at the end of this year.

Resident Betsy Kiel agreed that the transfer tax is a good source for funding a purchase of the property.

“If Vail Resorts was a good citizen of the community, they’d make a fair negotiation with you,” Kiel said.

Resident Kirsty Hinz took her time at the podium to encourage the council and to share a low opinion of Vail Resorts.

Hintz said she believes that the resort company’s claims about the Booth Heights site being about housing “is a load of hogwash.”

Resident Richard Leslie said his legal career included arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. Leslie, offering “free” legal advice, told council members “You’re the good guys,” in the dispute.

Leslie claimed Vail Resorts has an opportunity to “do a really good thing” in the dispute by agreeing to sell the parcel.

Longtime resident Merv Lapin said Vail Resorts and its corporate predecessor, Vail Associates, for the past 56 years have had the opportunity to build housing in the community, and it hasn’t happened.

‘We’ve let them get away with it’

“We’ve let them get away with it,” Lapin said, adding he believes the town should also begin condemnation proceedings against Vail Resorts for the Ever Vail parcel, for parking, as well as the land under the Lionshead parking structure and Vail Health Hospital.

Lapin noted that if the hospital should go away, for whatever reason, the land would revert to Vail Resorts.

Mark Gordon, a resident and former council member who signed a recent letter urging fiscal restraint in acquiring the parcel, said the public needs to be involved in the resolution of the dispute.

Gordon urged the council to put the acquisition of the parcel to a town vote once a sale price is determined.

That vote would let the council “know without a doubt where the citizens are” on the matter.

Gordon acknowledged that residents can’t force a referendum, but council members can put the matter to the public with a four-person majority.

“Let’s have that discussion and that vote,” Gordon said.

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