#Vail town council just voted 4-3 to condemn parcel where #VailResorts plans a $17m affordable housing complex for 165 workers … protecting a bighorn herd or worker housing? … dozens of VR employees here https://t.co/6tNgMCl2iS pic.twitter.com/SC0dAG5A8D
— Jason ☀️ Blevins (@jasonblevins) April 20, 2022
The Town of Vail’s council voted to condemn Vail Resort’s Booth Heights affordable housing development plan. The plan was approved by the council in 2019, but new council members voted last night, April 19th, to halt development. Vail Resorts emailed SnowBrains a statement after the vote:
Tonight, a divided Vail Town Council voted to begin steps in pursuing condemnation of the property that the Town Council previously approved for affordable housing. On behalf of all of the hard working employees in Vail, we appreciate the three Vail Town Council members who opposed moving forward on drafting a resolution. We remain hopeful that the Vail Town Council will make the right decision and not try to block this shovel-ready affordable housing project. Vail needs housing now – not development that might happen in 5 years. If the Town can support luxury homes in East Vail, then it can support affordable housing. We will continue to aggressively pursue this affordable housing project for the hard-working employees in our community.
The Booth Heights development is part of Vail Resort’s bigger plan to increase employee affordable housing by 10%. Vail Resorts CEO Kirsten Lynch stated the plans to build 875 new units for employees in Utah, British Columbia, Vermont, and Vail.
The plan to invest in employees is rooted in Vail Resorts’ new employee-centric business strategy. In her most recent letter to employees, Lynch addressed the rising cost of housing as a major pain point for many people who work extremely hard for the resort.
“Bringing our mission to life for our guests starts by creating it for employees, and affordable housing is an essential part of that,” Lynch wrote.
The company originally planned to drop an impressive $17 million on the Booth Heights Development. At Vail’s town council meeting last night, Vail Resorts COO Beth Howard stood in front of the council to make one final case in favor of the development. Howard made the point that affordable housing is a necessity that should be provided to Vail Resorts employees.
The council’s major issue with the Booth Heights development can be traced back to the necessity for Colorado wildlife protection. The Booth Heights plan could cause extensive damage to local wildlife. The current five-acre location that Vail Resorts is interested in developing encroaches on a herd of bighorn sheep. In Colorado, it is illegal to wound, hunt, take, or kill any bighorn sheep. According to Vail Town Councilman Kevin Foley, this specific herd of sheep has lived on the desired five-acre lot of land longer than Vail Resorts has been a company.
Foley told The Colorado Sun that he was ready for battle with Vail Resorts over this issue.
“I’m ready to go to war with Vail Resorts over this if we have to.”
Vail Resorts is currently planning to invest $100,000 into improving the bighorn sheep’s habitat. Howard said no other development plans encroaching on wildlife have taken the same precautions to protect the herd of sheep. However, this commitment to habitat protection is not enough goodwill for most of Vail’s town council members to support the development of Booth Heights.
Howard pointed out the double standard that the resort is being held to by the town council on this issue. Since 2019, multiple houses have been developed on the bighorn sheep’s territory. She claimed that no other development has been forced to conduct environmental reviews or habitat improvement studies. Standing in front of the town council, Howard boldly questioned the purpose of condemning Booth Heights while approving these other developments.
None of these homes performed an environmental review like we did for our project.
None of these homes funded habitat improvement for the sheep like we did for our project.
None of these homes have an extensive environmental mitigation plan like our project.
And perhaps most telling, none of these projects faced backlash and condemnation from local homeowners or the Vail Town Council. Why do the sheep only become an issue when the project being proposed is affordable housing? – Beth Howard, Vail Resorts COO
Vail’s town council is not alone in their opposition to the Booth Heights development. As a whole, Colorado has a long history of voting against affordable housing bills. Despite the negative attitude towards affordable housing, Vail Resorts is desperately pushing for new employee housing. As prices across all industries continue to rise, Vail Resorts has noticed their employees struggling to make ends meet. Creating affordable housing will increase employee quality of life. Improving employee quality of life is what Vail Resorts management set out to accomplish by implementing an employee-centric company strategy into their business model.
Construction on the Booth Heights development was scheduled to begin in 2023. However, since construction on the development has been halted by Vail’s town council, about 165 Vail Resorts employees that need access to affordable housing could be left without shelter.