Vail Resorts, town squabble over skier drop-off parking | AspenTimes.com

Vail Resorts, town squabble over skier drop-off parking

Lauren Glendenning
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

VAIL – The relationship between the town of Vail and Vail Resorts Development Co. seemed strained Tuesday as the sides bickered over negotiations for the release of a skier drop-off parking easement.

The town of Vail came to Vail Resorts Development Co. with a proposal in June to release the skier drop-off requirement on the company’s North Day Lot, where an employee-housing project is being built. The project, known as First Chair, fulfills the company’s employee-housing requirement from its Arrabelle at Vail Square project, which opened in 2008.

The town proposed removing the easement in exchange for a pay-in-lieu fee of $725,000. Twenty public skier drop-off spaces are being built at the west end of the Lionshead parking structure as part of the town’s $5.5 million public-transit and skier drop-off improvement project. The town of Vail says the location is more convenient and appropriate for skiers to be dropped off than the North Day Lot location.

Several Lionshead merchants spoke out in favor of the deal during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Under the deal, Vail Resorts would pay the fee for the release of the requirement to build the nine skier drop-off spaces and would then have the space on the property to build 29 new parking spaces that could be used for anything from employee parking to public skier parking. Vail Resorts hasn’t yet determined what the need for the spaces would be, said Vail Resorts Development Co. spokeswoman Kristin Kenney Williams.

The delay over the construction of the required housing tied to the Arrabelle project has been an ongoing point of contention between the town and Vail Resorts; however, both sides have shared some of the responsibility over the delay in recent months and appeared to have moved on from the matter.

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While town of Vail staff and the company had worked very well together over the new deal to remove the parking easement, the Vail Town Council had many questions about the deal Tuesday. Comments from some council members indicated a lack of trust in the company’s intentions.

“Negotiating with Vail Resorts is so frustrating I can’t even tell you,” Councilwoman Margaret Rogers said.

Rogers and Councilman Andy Daly pushed for inserting language that would guarantee the 29 parking spaces, which Williams felt contradicted the entire agreement.

“We’re not going to lift an encumbrance to put another encumbrance on it,” Williams said.

The Town Council passed the resolution after assuring Williams that the language doesn’t further inhibit the use of the land but, rather, ensures the company moves forward with an immediate plan to build the 29 spaces at the North Day lot. The ability of the company to propose something else for the land in the future would still be there.

The resolution directs Town Manager Stan Zemler to move forward with negotiations with Vail Resorts Development Co., in which he said he will be negotiating for the 29 spaces at the North Day Lot site.

Vail Resorts has to submit an application for the changed plans to the town’s Design Review Board to amend the overall project development plan anyway, which is another safeguard in the process that ensures the spaces get built, said Community Development Director George Ruther.

The timing of the special meeting called Tuesday was to get that process going because Vail Resorts has an obligation to finish the First Chair project by April.

Town Attorney Matt Mire said Vail Resorts is required to have the project’s development plan, which would include the 29 parking spaces, done by the spring, and no certificates of occupancy could be issued for any portion of the project unless it’s built according to that plan.

All of the built-in safeguards within the process, including zoning requirements that say there can be no net parking space losses within Lionshead, essentially guarantee that Vail Resorts would not be able to back out of building the parking, but it wasn’t enough for some Town Council members.

Williams was frustrated as council members talked about inserting the language – Vail Resorts had already promised to build the parking in good faith, plus the entire idea for the plan came from the town in the first place.

“Yes, we’re building the 29 spaces – we’re very close to having staff approval on the plan,” Williams said.

The resolution is not a legally binding contract, however, because it was only approved by the Town Council and not signed by both parties. Zemler will negotiate the details in coming weeks before a legal agreement is made.

The Town Council’s direction to Zemler is to make sure that the removal of the easement ensures those 29 spaces get built on the North Day Lot site in time for the April 2011 completion of the project. The removal of the easement also means Vail Resorts can choose to do whatever it wants with that land in the future, as long as it meets zoning requirements.

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