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Vail leaders to vote on condemning land where affordable housing is planned

Town leaders cite big horn sheep as reason
Vail affordable housing land.jpg
Posted at 4:56 PM, May 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-04 09:15:22-04

VAIL, Colo. – During Tuesday night’s Vail Town Council meeting, council members will decide if a parcel of land where Vail Resorts plans to build affordable housing for its employees will be condemned.

The land is located off of I-70 Frontage Road near Exit 180.

“This whole area along the side of I-70 is bighorn sheep severe winter range. Within that range falls Town of Vail property, private property that Vail Resorts owns and US Forest Service land. So there's a lot of stakeholders that comprise the bighorn sheep territory,” said Robyn Smith, a West Vail resident. “In this instance, the affordable housing parcel that's owned by Vail Resorts is about to be condemned.”

Smith says some Vail Town Council members are citing the big horn sheep as a reason to condemn the land. But Smith thinks the sheep are an excuse.

“It seems like the cause of the big horn is being co-opted to exclude an undesirable population of people,” Smith said. “But regardless of the intention, we're responsible for the outcome, and the outcome in this situation with condemnation is not equitable.”

Smith says those who will be impacted most by the condemnation are hospitality workers who are employed by the town's resorts but currently can’t afford to live in Vail.

Smith, who recently won an affordable housing lottery, says she knows building more affordable housing units is important.

“I lost my house to short-term rental. I had been renting a house in Vail for four years,” Smith said. “It’s because of affordable housing initiatives that I'm able to have a voice and a place in this community.”

Smith says the affordable housing development wouldn’t be the only structure in the area.

“Right next to that property is the Vail Mountain School, which is an extremely exclusive and extremely expensive private school," Smith said. "It's just not right that we're going to condemn and exclude affordable housing residents, which excludes them from the benefits of being in this community. It excludes them from employment opportunity and excludes them from education opportunity."

Town of Vail Mayor Kim Langmaid says she’s received a lot of correspondence from Vail residents who are concerned about the possibility of condemning the land.

“I know there are people that are saying this might be a "not in my backyard" issue. But it really does come down to the survival of the bighorn sheep, and we do feel there are win-win solutions,” Langmaid said. “We did find an alternate location right across the street from the town municipal building.”

Langmaid says the Town of Vail is surrounded by US Forest Land, limiting the towns options for building new developments.

“As we move into the future, it is increasingly difficult to find lands to build affordable housing. So I'm sure this issue will continue into the future,” Langmaid said.

Langmaid says if the town council moves forward with the eminent domain decision to condemn the land, the council can continue working with Vail Resorts to find and alternate location.

Council ultimately voted 4-3 to approve the resolution authorizing the exercise of the town's eminent domain authority to acquire open space.