Vail Resorts Employee Housing Project Blocked to Protect Bighorn Sheep

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The Booth Heights development is highlighted in yellow. A majority of the sheep’s habitat will be preserved.

Vail Town Council last night suspended all permits on a parcel of land owned by Vail Resorts where the company was planning on building employee housing.

The council initially approved the housing project in 2019 but condemned it earlier this year to protect the local bighorn sheep herd’s winter range. Yesterday’s vote, 6-1 in favor, was called “drastic and unprecedented” by a company real estate attorney, reports Jason Belvins with the Colorado Sun.

Vail Resorts, who had hoped to have the housing ready for employees for the 2023/24 season, promises to fight the decision. Should they be allowed to develop the land, they intend to protect the bighorn sheep.

“We have agreed to implement standards and restrictions on this site that no other landowner in East Vail is subject to. This town has already demonstrated that human activity, Airbnbs, construction, and even an increased allowance for over 100 students and corresponding travel at Vail Mountain School can occur within East Vail and coexist with the bighorn sheep herd.”

– Bill Rock, head of Vail Resorts ski areas in Colorado and Utah

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The Booth Heights Development was approved by Vail’s town council in 2019. The council now wants to halt construction to protect endangered wildlife. (PC: Vail Daily)

The Town of Vail’s council first voted to condemn Vail Resort’s Booth Heights affordable housing development plan in April 2022. The council approved the project in 2019, but new council members voted on 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 affordable employee 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 letter to employees, Lynch addressed the rising cost of housing as a significant 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 initially planned to drop an impressive $17 million on the Booth Heights Development. At Vail’s town council meeting on April 19th, 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.

Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep. Photo by Pete Nuij on Unsplash

The council’s primary 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 planning to invest $100,000 to improve the bighorn sheep’s habitat. 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 said no other development plans encroaching on wildlife had taken the same precautions to protect the herd of sheep.

Howard pointed out the double standard that the town council is holding to the resort on this issue. Since 2019, multiple houses have been developed on the bighorn sheep’s territory. She claimed that no other development had been forced to conduct environmental reviews or habitat improvement studies. 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 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 desperately pushes for new employee housing. As prices across all industries continue to rise, Vail Resorts has noticed its employees struggling to make ends meet. Vail Resorts management set out to improve employee quality of life by implementing an employee-centric company strategy into their business model. Creating affordable housing will increase employee quality of life. 

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.

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The Booth Heights lot is monitored daily to study the sheep’s behavior patterns. (PC: Vail Daily)

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One thought on “Vail Resorts Employee Housing Project Blocked to Protect Bighorn Sheep

  1. lol environmentalists getting in the way of affordable / obtainable housing

    how many times do I need to point out examples before you understand this is a real world, cause and effect type situation?

    take some basic economics courses and it will all become clear to you

    the sheep can move up the mountain, the sheep are not endangered, the sheep have more access to land than a few acres that cheap apartments would take up

    why don’t you just close Vail, demo everything, do some habitat restoration and give it all back to the sheep?

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