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The Town of Vail and wildlife officials erected fencing around bighorn habitat in East Vail along Interstate 70 in April 2020 after two sheep were struck by vehicles. Vail Resorts wants to build workforce housing on the parcel it owns in East Vail, but town officials do not want housing in the area where a bighorn herd spends every winter. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

The blows keep coming for Vail Resorts in Colorado. 

The Vail Town Council on Tuesday night approved an emergency ordinance that suspended all permits for any activity on Vail Resorts’ property in East Vail where the company wants to build worker housing. The town earlier this year approved a resolution to begin condemnation of the property, blocking the ski operator’s plan to build employee housing on a parcel it owns that is part of the local bighorn sheep herd’s winter range. 

A legal battle over the condemnation looms with Vail Resorts promising a fight. The council’s suspension of permits virtually assures that Vail Resorts will not be able to meet its timeline of housing workers at the property by the 2023-24 season. 

Sarah Kellner, a real estate attorney from Faegre Drinker Biddle and Reath working for Vail Resorts, called the emergency ordinance banning permits on the property “drastic and unprecedented.”

“Every landowner and business in this town should be concerned that this council can target any landowner or business it disagrees with and can take away property rights … without due process,” Kellner said. “The town here is trying to take Vail Resorts’ rights away by government fiat without a court deciding whether it has the right to do so.”

The council voted 6-1 to approve the emergency ordinance, citing possible impacts to “significant natural and wildlife resources” and a desire to keep the parcel as undeveloped open space. Vail Resorts wanted permits to conduct geological and soils tests on the property. The ordinance also prevents building permits. 

The company has rejected the town’s offer to buy the property and Colorado law requires a court to decide “fair market value” in a condemnation process.

Bill Rock, the head of Vail Resorts ski areas in Colorado and Utah, said his company intends to protect bighorn on the parcel. 

“We have agreed to implement standards and restrictions on this site that no other landowner in East Vail is subject to. Vail is happy to implement these restrictions despite being the only landowner being asked to do so but it draws the line at being banned from receiving permits for the site while no other landowner in the entire area of East Vail is,” Rock said. “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. Vail Resorts … should not be unilaterally singled out with this ordinance.”

Last week the Forest Service forced the company to halt construction on a new lift at its Keystone resort after the agency found construction crews plowing a road into alpine tundra beyond permitted boundaries. Earlier this year the Park City planning commission in Utah denied the company’s request to upgrade two chairlifts, citing parking and other community impacts.

Councilman Pete Seibert Jr. voted against the condemnation in May but voted to suspend permits. He cited the September 2021 spill from a Vail ski area storage pond that killed 120 fish and the recent issue at Keystone, saying “I’m not so sure it is responsible to leave things to Vail at this time.”

The town has offered Vail Resorts several other plans and locations for developing affordable housing, including a partnership on the already underway Residences at Main Vail. Vail Resorts has agreed to discuss those options but insists on following through with its plans for housing for 165 workers on five acres on Interstate 70 in East Vail. Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting, the council declined to overturn the Vail Design Review Board’s May approval of the housing plan on the parcel, which local residents had appealed.

Councilwoman Jen Mason said she was uneasy about the suspension of permits but ultimately voted to protect the area for the bighorn herd.

“I don’t want to be in a fight. I want to be collaborating, but that doesn’t seem to be working,” she said. 

Jason Blevins lives in Eagle with his wife, daughters and a dog named Gravy. Topic expertise: Western Slope, public lands, outdoors, ski industry, mountain business, housing, interesting things Location: Eagle, CO Newsletter: The...