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Vail Corp. loses condemnation case despite Vail’s ‘abusive tactics’

BROOMFIELD and EAGLE — Vail Corp. has lost in Eagle County District Court its effort to fight the condemnation of 23.3 acres of property that it had hoped — and at one time received town of Vail permission — to develop into workforce housing.

Delays brought about by the Broomfield corporation’s pandemic response, the town of Vail’s “arguably abusive negotiation tactics,” and a change in the makeup of the town council all resulted in a change from town authorization to proceed with construction to an effort to condemn the property for use as habitat for the S2 herd of bighorn sheep, one of 86 herds in Colorado.

Use of the property in east Vail has been in dispute for years. The resort company and the town had sparred in court over the project, which some on the town council said should not proceed because of the need for winter grazing of the sheep herd’s ewes and lambs while the resort company supported development of workforce housing — one of the major issues affecting resorts trying to recruit workers in communities where housing costs exceed ability for workers to pay rents or mortgages.

Vail Corp. is an entity registered to the Broomfield address of Vail Resorts Inc. (NYSE: MTN).

Vail Corp.’s plan would have used 5.4 acres of the property for workforce housing and dedicate the remainder for wildlife habitat, and it had agreed to restrictions on how the habitat piece could be used by future residents of the housing.

The project drew objections from nearby property owners who objected to having workforce housing near their properties.

Vail Corp. contended that neighbor objections, rather than interests in preserving habitat, drove the town to ultimately seek condemnation of the entire parcel.

The town argued otherwise, and Judge Paul Dunkelman said it wasn’t his role to determine which need was greater but rather whether the town had authority to condemn the property. He determined that it did.

In laying out the facts of the case, the judge ruled that while the town had the authority to condemn for the public purpose of preserving wildlife habitat, it engaged in what he termed “aggressive and arguably abusive negotiation tactics.” The town “granted two no-bid contracts to Triumph Development West LLC in exchange for Triumph abandoning the (Vail Corp.) project. … (it) required that Triumph claim ownership over the property’s (development and building) plans so Vail Resorts could not use them” and attempted to acquire the property’s entitlements. The town also attempted to pressure Vail Corp. by withdrawing leases for employee housing at other town-owned properties.

“It was not a proper approach for a condemning authority to take. The town should never have attempted to coerce Vail Resorts …,” the judge wrote. Still, while “unfortunate,” the judge said the practice was not illegal and the town had authority to condemn once the makeup of the town council changed to establish a majority of members opposed to the housing project.

Next steps will be a court determination of the fair market value of the property; the court ordered the town to deposit with the court $12 million in anticipation of a valuation decision. 

John Plack, senior communications manager for Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek Resort, said the company is disappointed in the decision.
“We are disappointed in this outcome and that the town of Vail chose to take this action, to condemn our private land, and eliminate an approved affordable workforce housing project after collaborating with our company for years to get this project approved,” Plack said. “We respect the court’s decision and appreciate the court highlighting issues that made this a challenging process. This community desperately needs affordable housing options. While having the town fully reverse its position on this collaboration presents challenges, we will continue to advocate for our employees and seek housing solutions through community collaboration.”

The case is Town of Vail v. The Vail Corp., et al, case number 2022cv30193, filed in Eagle County District Court in Eagle, Colorado.

Source: BizWest