Vail Town Council Ordered to Pay $17.5 Million to Vail Resorts for Booth Heights Parcel

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Affordable housing, Booth Heights, Vail, Colorado
Artist render of the proposed affordable housing project in East Vail, picture: Town of Vail

Eagle County District Court’s three-person commission ruled on Monday that the town of Vail in Colorado must pay Vail Resorts $17.5 million to acquire the 23-acre Booth Heights parcel in East Vail. The decision comes after years of contentious debate between the town and Vail Resorts, initially revolving around an affordable housing project the resort company had planned for its employees.

The parcel’s fate took a turn in April 2022 when the Vail Town Council voted to condemn the land, citing a need to protect the local bighorn sheep herd’s winter range. This move halted a previously approved development plan by Vail Resorts, which had aimed to address the acute shortage of affordable housing for its employees.

In recent months, public sentiment has been palpable on both sides. A strong and vocal group of Vail residents have shown their support for the town’s actions. The residents appeared in person at council meetings and sent emails advocating for the condemnation of the land to protect the bighorn sheep’s habitat. However, this resident turnout contrasts sharply with a previous council meeting in May, where many Vail Resorts employees and executives supported the affordable housing project.

The ongoing litigation also includes a complaint filed three weeks ago by Vail Resorts against the town, citing the ‘improper use of an emergency ordinance’ to halt all permits on the land. Amid these legal battles, questions loom large about the real motives behind opposition to the project. Accusations of NIMBYism (“Not In My Backyard”) have been leveled at residents who oppose the development, particularly given the proximity of the parcel to existing luxury residences and public facilities.

Booth Heights, Vail
The Booth Heights development is highlighted in yellow. It is clear that a majority of the sheep’s habitat will be preserved. (PC: Vail Resorts).

Despite the $17.5 million valuation, both parties need to find a quick solution. With a median house price of $2 million in Vail, the lack of affordable housing is not just a problem for seasonal staff but extends to vital roles like teachers. Eagle County has even resorted to Habitat for Humanity projects to avert a staffing crisis in local schools. The lack of affordable housing affects not just Vail Resorts but the entire community.

During the recent valuation hearing, the town argued that the parcel was worth between $11.1 million and $12.9 million, while Vail Resorts assessed its value at $23.08 million. The commission, made up of experts in real estate, landed on a compromise valuation of $17,519,985.

Kris Widlak, Vail’s director of communications, told Vail Daily that the Vail Town Council is scheduled to discuss their willingness to pay the amount at their Tuesday, Oct. 3 meeting.

The verdict marks a significant chapter in a saga that began in earnest in May 2022, following a failed $12 million offer by the town to purchase the site from Vail Resorts. With the commission’s decision, attention now turns to the Oct. 3 Town Council meeting, where the fate of the Booth Heights parcel—and potentially the home of a local bighorn sheep herd—will be decided.

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

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