Town of Vail Planning & Environmental Commission and Town Council members,
At Vail Valley Partnership, our guiding principle is to promote the long-term economic health of Eagle County and solidify an economic base that is strong, diverse, and resilient. Economic development is about building sustainable communities that can thrive indefinitely.
Eagle County communities derive extraordinary economic and social benefits from the ongoing health and beauty of our natural environment. Respecting this heritage, efforts to strengthen our economy in diverse, collaborative, and sustainable ways that fit the particular context of our communities.
We must ask ourselves if the decisions, policies and programs that we pursue are likely to create outcomes that are economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially acceptable. The framework of Community Sustainability is a sensible framework for decision-making that considers: Economic Sustainability, Environmental Sustainability, and Social Sustainability.
When there are community issues – including but not limited to housing, healthcare, and transportation – those issues are Chamber issues. Well-thought-out development, construction, and proper land use will create jobs and opportunities through retention and expansion of existing companies, and the attraction of new companies.
The careful balance of economic, environmental, and social sustainability also requires careful consideration of the underlying zoning that exists on various parcels considered for development.
The proposed Booth Heights (East Vail workforce housing parcel) project supports important wildlife habitat and is closely surrounded by habitats and wildlife uses that are unique in the Gore Creek Valley. Development and human habitation of this site without designing it around the wildlife community, without safeguards, and without habitat enhancement would result in impacts that would be unacceptable to the local community.
The Town of Vail’s housing district environmental language (criteria E) states environmental impacts resulting from the proposal have been identified in the project’s environmental impact report, if not waived, and all necessary mitigating measures are implemented as a part of the proposed development plan.
Note, it does not indicate that projects should not be approved but that “necessary mitigating measures are implemented”. Emotional pleas aside, the bighorn sheep winter range is 1,800 acres and development will occur on 0.2% of sheep range. Managing bighorn habitat to restore, enhance, or maintain vegetative openness is key to survival of the herd. The development proposes to permanently set aside and enhance 18 acres of private property for wildlife.
The Wildlife Mitigation Plan for the East Vail Workforce Housing will be provided to residents of the Workforce Housing subdivision to educate them about (1) the parcel’s setting, (2) the sensitivity of the local wildlife, (3) the effort that went into the development’s design to avoid, minimize, and compensate for project effects, and (4) requirements that residents must abide by to live in this sensitive setting.
The 2009 Environmental Sustainability Strategic Plan (Goal #3 – Ecosystem Health) is to ensure that the natural environment, specifically air and water quality, water quantity, land use and habitat are maintained to current or improved levels of biological health.
Note, in the case of the proposed Booth Heights neighborhood in East Vail, the developer is proposing the largest private wildlife mitigation in the history of the Town. This certainly qualifies as “maintained to current or improved levels of biological health” for the sheep herd.
Of equal importance to those focused on facts rather than emotion, the East Vail parcel is private property designated as a housing zone district and is the only undeveloped Housing zone parcel in the Town of Vail. No variances to town code are proposed and the 2018 housing needs assessment shows need for 4,000 additional units valley wide by 2020.
Please keep the following additional facts in mind as you review the application:
- Bighorn sheep winter range is 1,800 acres.
- Development will occur on 0.2% of sheep range.
- Managing bighorn habitat to restore, enhance, or maintain vegetative openness is key to survival (and this plan provides for appropriate mitigation). The development proposes to permanently set aside and enhance 18 acres of private property for wildlife.
- Neighbors have opposed efforts to improve the habitat via controlled burns dating back 20+ years
- The East Vail parcel is private property designated as a housing zone district and is the only undeveloped Housing parcel in the Town of Vail.
- No variances to town code are proposed.
- 2018 housing needs assessment shows need for 4,000 units (valley-wide)
The facts run counter to the allegation that this development represents an extermination risk for the herd. The idea that 5 acres on unused aspen forest is the lynchpin to the herd thriving or dying is contrary to any evidence in the field. The herd winters 100 feet above an existing neighborhood and literally lays down in people’s yards and graze next to drilling machines at public works. They are habituated to us.
Are the herd of sheep under stress? That is a valid and completely rational claim. The fact is the herd is smaller than it once was. But the real elephant in the room is what is causing this stress. Loss of quality winter range in 1,800 acres of public lands, hiking in the backcountry, danger of getting hit on I-70, and of course our winter season causes stress to wildlife. These are real risks and areas that we can focus our effort of this herd is important.
Based on the Town of Vail strategic plans and zoning, it is clear to us that the project meets zoning and mitigation requirements of the Town. A key to addressing the housing challenge is political will; doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but following the town code, guidelines, and strategic plans should be.
We encourage you to move forward and approve this development proposal.
President & CEO
Vail Valley Partnership