North America’s largest resort operator goes to war with its namesake city.
Vail City Council voted Tuesday night to condemn a plot where Vail Resorts plans to spend $17 million to build affordable housing for 165 workers. Dozens of Vail Resorts executives, employees and managers crammed into council chambers Tuesday night as the council heard passionate support for housing and wildlife. In the end, council voted 4-3 to approve a resolution that gives the city the chance to seize ownership of the 23-acre parcel and prevent further development as a way to protect a herd of bighorn sheep. which overwinters in south-facing aspen groves along Interstate 70. .
“I’m disappointed you’ve been pushed into a corner and have to consider this resolution tonight,” said Terry Meyers, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society. “Please make the decision to protect the bighorn sheep herd and move forward to find other affordable housing options in the Vail Valley. The sheep must have this. They cannot go away.
The council has emailed more than 100 statements – 200 pages in the council meeting file – from business owners and local residents in the past two weeks, including about 80 urging council members not to condemn the plot and to support housing. Counsel counted about 20 emails supporting the conviction.
Former Vail board member Jenn Bruno, who voted to approve the Vail Resorts housing project in 2019, questioned the council’s willingness to condemn the land for “health, safety and welfare public”.
“Which audience is referenced? It’s not the workers,” Bruno said. “We are in a housing crisis that affects not only our customer experiences, but the very composition of our community. If we really think about the welfare and safety of our neighbors, we would want to make sure they have homes.
Chris Romer, the head of the 920-business Vail Valley Partnership, focused on the government’s role, saying government seizure of eminent domain and private property is an “extreme action.”
“The idea that what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine is bad government policy,” Romer said.
Frances Hartogh, a Vail resident and volunteer ranger for the Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance, said she’s seen the detrimental effects of crowds, dogs and weather on wildlife in the valley.
“It’s time to stop raping wildlife in the name of our sport,” Hartogh said.
West Vail resident and business owner Robyn Smith presented a map she assembled from city data showing 17 short-term rental homes, two luxury homes under construction, two starting points, the City Public Works Building and the Vail Mountain School among more than 100 buildings in the sheep herd winter range on the south-facing slopes in East Vail.
Smith said condemning the affordable housing project while allowing all other activities in the winter habitat “is a classic example of redlining.”
“The consequences of this action are clearly discriminatory,” Smith said, adding that state wildlife officials are responsible for protecting bighorn sheep “but you are solely responsible for us.”
Vail Resorts also brought a map showing more than 100 homes in the habitat, with many houses flooded with red dots indicating homes owned by people who have spoken out publicly against the affordable housing project near their neighborhood.
Many residents have urged Vail Resorts to direct employee housing to its Ever Vail plot in the valley. Years ago, the company proposed a new chairlift and a luxury village on the land adjacent to the ski area. John Dawsey, vice president of hospitality for Vail Resorts, said Ever Vail is three to five years away from approval.
“And we need those homes now,” Dawsey said. “One gives us accommodation now and the other will get us accommodation in the future and we need both.”
Vail Resorts, and most mountain businesses, are experiencing a painful shortage of workers caused by a lack of affordable housing. The ski area operator has struggled this season to open lifts and land at understaffed resorts. Bill Rock, chief operating officer of the Rocky Mountains area of Vail Resort, said the sentencing “will be detrimental to the health and sustainability of the community…it will have a negative impact for decades.”
Rock also said the company “will vigorously defend our right to move forward with this project.”
After hearing three hours of testimony, all council members blasted Vail Resorts for the difficult negotiations in recent years as the city pushed the company to seek different locations for housing in the valley. They all noted the city’s recent investment in employee apartment expansions and the new 70-residence project in Main Vail, which Vail Resorts does not support.
“We have been trying to partner with Vail Resorts for the past two years. It’s been a very dismal process,” said Councilwoman Jen Mason, who said eminent domain could help improve negotiations with Vail Resorts. “I don’t want to condemn this land but for two years they wouldn’t even answer us.”
Vail Mayor Kim Langmaid, who grew up in Vail, defended the council’s support for affordable housing.
“It was a struggle to stay here and live here. It has been very sad to see what was once a very vibrant community implode on itself due to the lack of affordable housing,” Langmaid said, adding that she grew up watching the herd of bighorn sheep in East Vail. “I’m not willing to risk their demise because I believe there is a better way. I know we can do it. This resolution doesn’t stop us from finding a way. We don’t have to use the domain eminent We just say we can do it.