By: Scott N. Miller, Vail Daily, November 19, 2013
VAIL — Ever since the town of Vail bought the Timber Ridge apartments, there have been plans, big plans, for what might come next on the 10-acre property. Those plans all failed. A more modest project may succeed where the big plans did not.
The Vail Town Council on Tuesday approved a development agreement with developers Jen Wright and Gary Gorman to build about 113 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments on the eastern half of the property. The new project could break ground in May of next year and be finished in time for the 2015-16 ski season.
While the new units will still be rentals, they’ll be aimed at a very different market. Timber Ridge now is aimed primarily at seasonal workers. The new market will be year-round residents.
The last plan proposed for the property had triple the units, as well as a parking structure. But there was also a gap of $8 to $10 million in the project’s cost that the last developer asked the town to make up, which doomed that proposal.
Reflecting on that and other attempts to re-develop the site, Vail Community Development Department Director George Ruther said those proposals in many ways were “more frosting than cake.”
Ruther said problems included everything from parking to snow storage to the ability to build units on what is in places a very steep piece of property.
This plan, he said, started from a more basic premise — what could realistically be built on the property without any financial support from the town except providing the land.
These units will be aimed at year-round residents, so each apartment will have its own laundry equipment and furnace, as well as a small storage locker for each bedroom. But the apartments have to be built to a price. That will limit the size of the buildings. It will also put tight limits on parking.
Wright said one-bedroom units will have one parking space each. Two-bedroom units will have about one-and-a-half spaces per units.
Council member Margaret Rogers asked if parking could be further tightened to provide more housing.
But Ruther said this amount of parking more accurately reflects the needs of the people who will live there.
“You’re asking people to live in these units like we’d live in our homes,” Ruther said. “They’re going to expect what they can get elsewhere.”
Council member Dave Chapin said more units on the property would affect tenants’ quality of life.
But, he added, the current plan seems good for younger people living in Vail all year.
“You can figure out the parking,” Chapin said.
Given the target market for the new apartments, Rogers also asked where seasonal employees will be expected to live. Ruther said there’s a “great opportunity” to put more people into the west side of Timber Ridge.
There’s still a lot more work to do to get the new project ready for groundbreaking, and Ruther said there’s still plenty of opportunity for public comment.
The Vail Planning and Environmental Commission will hold its first hearings on the plan Dec. 16 and 18.
But Jim Lamont, the representative for the Vail Homeowners Association, said this is an important first step, especially given the need to either restore or replace the structures now at Timber Ridge.
“If this is a realistic thing to get done, then let’s get it done,” Lamont said.