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A group calling itself the Gore Valley Citizens Alliance late Tuesday put out a press release announcing it has filed documents in Eagle County District Court calling for a judicial review of the Town of Vail’s record of decision for the Booth Heights housing development in East Vail.
Citing potential impacts to a herd of about 40 bighorn sheep that uses part of the property as winter range, the group notes that all four Vail Town Council candidates who expressed opposition to the project won seats in the Nov. 5 election.
As reported by the Vail Daily Tuesday, an independent group called Citizens for Responsible Government spent nearly $7,000 in support of candidates, including top vote-getter Kevin Foley, who opposed Booth Heights. Brian Stockmar, the chairman of the Planning and Environmental Commission that approved the project despite Stockmar’s opposition, spent more than $5,000 to win election, while Foley spent just $3.25.
However, it should also be noted that Foley, who wound up opposing the project, voted in October of 2017 to rezone the 23.3-acre Vail Resorts’ property as 17.9 acres of Natural Area Preservation and 5.3 acres of Housing District.
Those zoning designations are highly restrictive and limited development to the smaller parcel right on North Frontage Road and Interstate 70. The private property had previously been zoned for 100% free-market development, but town officials sought the rezoning in a bid to mitigate Vail’s ongoing workforce housing crisis.
The opposition group also states that “Booth Heights is about money” because 30% of it will now be free-market housing rather than 100% workforce, but the town council in March voted against a plan favored by the developer, Triumph, and Vail Resorts that would have resulted in more units and 100% workforce housing.
Here’s the entirety of the Gore Valley Citizens Alliance press release:
Citizens call for judicial review of Vail’s Booth Heights development
Vail, Colorado, November 12 — Saying they’d been left no other avenue, a group of citizens today filed documents with the Eagle County District Court calling for a judicial review of the Town of Vail’s record of decision for the Booth Heights development.
“The bighorn sheep have been in the area for two weeks,” said Jonathan Staufer of the Gore Valley Citizens Alliance. “Despite that, Vail Resorts and Triumph rolled heavy equipment into the area on Monday. They have no interest in protecting the wildlife. Meanwhile, the Town is allowing them to run roughshod over regulations designed to protect wildlife and the environment.”
The proposed Booth Heights development has generated a massive outpouring of public opposition. A record number of 22 appeals to the Town Council were filed after Vail’s Planning and Environmental Commission (PEC) approved the project. The opposition culminated with the election to the Town Council of four candidates who opposed the project on November 5. Despite that election, the new Council may not have an opportunity to further review the project.
“We’re not interested in an adversarial relationship with the Town,” Staufer said. “We’re hoping the Town will take this opportunity to find another site for housing that will preserve this property for the bighorn sheep.”
The property in question comprises critical winter range for a native herd of bighorn sheep. Four respected wildlife biologists testified against the project over the summer, urging the Town to deny approval and encourage the applicants to build elsewhere.
“An overarching goal in the Vail Town Code is to protect wildlife and the environment,” said Maya Kane, a bighorn sheep expert and one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “This project will result in irreversible direct and indirect impacts to the Gore-Eagles Nest bighorn sheep herd. Our goal is to ensure that the herd is adequately protected.”
The property was widely believed to be open space or in the Public realm for several decades. Indeed, the property disappeared from the tax rolls somewhere around 1974 during the acquisition of right of way for Interstate 70 and the Town of Vail’s acquisition of Katsos Ranch. In 2017, it was suddenly announced that the property belonged to Vail Resorts and that the company intended to develop it.
“The Town Code charges the Town Council and the Planning and Environmental Commission with ensuring that the environmental harms associated with large scale development are mitigated appropriately,” said land use attorney Kim Perdue, who is working with the citizens group. “The Town Council, acting through the PEC, is allowing high density development in bighorn sheep winter range without securing meaningful, enforceable, and scientifically sound protections for that sensitive population. The Town Council has also declined to take meaningful action to provide safe pedestrian access to services for the development’s residents, to protect wetlands on the site, and to protect against rockfalls and debris flows.”
“Booth Heights is about money. Period,” Staufer said. “30% of the property will be ‘free market.’ Next year, Vail Resorts will be back at the Town for approvals for EverVail and argue that they’ve satisfied their housing requirement, freeing up that development to reap maximum profits.”