Vail Resorts sued the Town of Vail this week over the latter’s decision to block the construction of employee housing due to concerns it will disrupt a bighorn sheep habitat.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Eagle County District Court, asks a judge there to invalidate an Aug. 2 vote of the Vail Town Council that stopped progress on the project.
“As is the case in many mountain towns in Colorado, the Town of Vail desperately needs affordable housing,” the lawsuit states.
“Vail, therefore, needs to move forward with all of the workforce housing options available to it if the town wants to make a meaningful dent in the employee housing crisis,” it adds.
Town spokeswoman Kris Widlak said in an email Thursday, “We just received the lawsuit and are in the process of reviewing it. We will not be able to comment on it today.”
The lawsuit takes issue with the early August decision by council members to pass an expedited measure, known as Ordinance 16, that placed a moratorium on construction on Vail Resorts’ property in east Vail. Vail Resorts wants to develop 165 units there.
Ordinance 16 passed by a vote of 6-1. Because the council deemed it an “emergency” ordinance, it took effect after only one vote rather than the usual two.
It was the latest move by Vail to block the influential resort company that bears its name from building worker housing. Talks have been ongoing for five years, according to Vail Resorts’ lawsuit, and included several concessions by the company, such as setting aside 18 acres for nature preservation and paying $100,000 for wildlife enhancements in town.
In April and May, the town council voted to condemn Vail Resorts’ full 23 acres in East Vail — the 18 preserved acres and the five being built on — and begin eminent domain proceedings. But the land has never been condemned or purchased under eminent domain.
“Instead, the town council has used its threat of condemnation to put pressure on Vail Resorts to abandon its project in exchange for other employee housing options that the town is either building or intends to build elsewhere in the town,” the lawsuit alleges.
Vail Resorts suggests there was an ulterior motive behind Ordinance 16. While “it purports to prevent irreparable damage to wildlife, including a herd of bighorn sheep,” its “actual purpose” is to “take possession of the property” while Vail tries to find a reason to condemn the land.
The company hired its own bighorn sheep expert who testified Aug. 2 that soil testing on the private property would have no impact on the animals, which only use the area as a winter habitat, if done before winter. She testified that Ordinance 16’s moratorium would push testing back to November and be worse for the sheep, according to the lawsuit.
Vail Resorts also claims it is being treated worse than other developers. Its lawsuit contains satellite images that purport to show Vail has allowed “significant construction to occur squarely in the middle of the bighorn sheep’s range” while blocking Vail Resorts from building.
The company wants Judge Russell Granger to determine the town council acted arbitrarily and exceeded its jurisdiction when it passed Ordinance 16. It is not asking for compensation, only that Ordinance 16 be struck down and the project allowed to proceed.
Vail Resorts was based in the Vail area until 2006, when it moved its headquarters to Broomfield. It is represented by attorneys Sarah Kellner, Katharine Gray and Lindsey Folcik with the Denver office of Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath.