Judge to decide status of Vail land dispute

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After a three-day trial, it is now up to a district court judge to determine whether land in Vail, Colorado should be used as employee housing or remain bighorn sheep habitat. It’s a decision that places the Town of Vail on one side and Vail Resorts on another. As GOHUNT previously reported, the proposed controversial “high density” housing complex by Vail Resorts would consist of 61 residential units on a plot of land between I-70 and the Gore Range – also known as “critical winter grazing ground” for the Gore Range bighorn sheep herd. 

Specifically, the land in contention is a 22.3-acre parcel that, prior to a decision to rezone the acreage in 2017 as 17.9 acres for Natural Area Preservation and 5.4 acres for housing, was included in the town’s Open Space Plan, which was created back in 1994, according to the Summit Daily. In 2019, Vail’s Planning and Environmental Commission approved a workforce housing development on the 5.4 acres, which was upheld by the Vail Town Council. However, in May 2022, a newly-seated council “voted to condemn the parcel” and, since then, neither party has come to any sort of agreement outside of court, which is why it is now up to Eagle County District Court Chief Judge Paul Dunkelman to decide what plan is the correct one.

During the three-day hearing, the Town of Vail argued that “it is taking the land to serve a public purpose” and that the area is considered “critical” habitat for bighorn sheep. Vail Resorts alleged that the town was acting in “bad faith,” that the area is “poor habitat” for bighorn sheep and the town “had ulterior motives” by acquiring the land, according to the Summit Daily.

Patrick Wilson, who represented the Town of Vail in court, said that “preservation of wildlife and all the other benefits that stem from that” have been “clearly acknowledged” as a “legitimate municipal public use and purpose.”

Wilson added that there was “no evidence that the town was trying to block a specific development” and that the town wants to “preserve this land but also are inviting workforce housing” up and down the valley.

Dunkelman said his decision would “likely be made by the end of June.”


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