Affordable Housing vs. Bighorns in Vail Valley

Well, the CORE Act reminded me of Jim Stiles’ pieces about amenitization or “gentrification in the name of amenities” of rural communities. One of the primary, earliest, and most extreme examples are ski communities. And then this story from the Colorado Sun showed up today about affordable housing in the Vail Valley and bighorn sheep which illustrates the situation:

The largest resort operator in North America is going to war with its namesake town.

The Vail town council late Tuesday voted to condemn a parcel 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 the council’s chambers Tuesday night as the council heard passionate support for both housing and wildlife. Ultimately the council voted 4-3 to approve a resolution that gives the town the ability to seize ownership of the 23-acre parcel and prevent any development as a way to protect a bighorn herd that winters in the south-facing aspen groves along Interstate 70.

“I’m disappointed you’ve been backed into a corner and have to consider this resolution tonight,” said Terry Meyers, the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society. “Please make the decision to protect the bighorn sheep herd and move forward to find other options for affordable housing in the Vail Valley. The sheep have to have this. They can’t go anywhere else.”

“What public is being referenced? It’s not the workers,” Bruno said. “We are in a housing crisis that is affecting not only our guest experiences but the very make-up of our community. If we are really thinking 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 role of government, saying eminent domain and government seizure of private property is an “extreme action.”

“The idea of what is mine is mine and what is yours is mine is bad government policy,” Romer said.

Frances Hartogh, a Vail resident and volunteer wilderness ranger for the Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance, said she has seen the detrimental impacts of crowds, dogs and climate on the valley’s wildlife.

“It’s time to stop violating wildlife in the name of our sport,” Hartogh said.

Robyn Smith, a resident and business owner in West Vail, presented a map she assembled from town data showing 17 short-term rental homes, two luxury homes under construction, two trailheads, the town’s public works building and Vail Mountain School among more than 100 buildings in the bighorn herd’s winter range on the south-facing slopes in East Vail.

Smith said condemning the affordable housing project while allowing all the other activity in the winter habitat “is a textbook example of redlining.”

“The consequences of this action are clearly discriminatory,” said Smith, adding that state wildlife officials are in charge of protecting bighorn “but you are uniquely responsible for us.”

Vail Resorts also brought a map showing more than 100 homes in the habitat, many of the homes awash in red dots indicating the homes owned by people who have spoken publicly against the affordable housing project near their neighborhood.

Many residents urged Vail Resorts to direct employee housing to its Ever Vail parcel in the valley. The company years ago proposed a new chairlift and luxury village on the land adjacent to the ski area. John Dawsey, the vice president of hospitality for Vail Resorts, said Ever Vail is three to five years away from approval.

“And we need this housing now,” Dawsey said. “One gets us housing now and one will get us housing in the future and we need both.


1 thought on “Affordable Housing vs. Bighorns in Vail Valley”

  1. “The town and company’s impact report studying the project suggests the plan’s 42 apartments and 31 townhomes could be built without impacting the herd.” This doesn’t appear to really be about housing vs bighorns. It looks more like housing vs NIMBYs (using bighorns). (But what does Colorado Parks and Wildlife say?)

    The typical argument used to discount this issue is that conservation lands are not usually sought for affordable housing in most places, so Vail is probably kind of an exception. (But reducing the overall supply of land might affect housing prices to some degree where developable land is limited.)


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