Vail property values change neighborhood values

Photo by Vail Daily/Preston Utley
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Bob Villeau stands at the end of his property line in East Vail. Bob along with other neighbors are trying to stop an new house from being built which would put his property fifteen feet from the new proposed property.
Vail Daily/Preston Utley

Scott N. Miller
July 21, 2004

The world changes. So do neighborhoods.

Change that's coming with the latest phase of redevelopment in Vail is likely to affect the views, privacy and ambiance of an East Vail neighborhood. But there may not be a lot they can do about it.

Bob Villeau and his wife, Kathy, live on Meadow Drive in East Vail, on the south side of a rocky outcropping. From the top of the rocky knob, a vacant lot tumbles down to Juniper Lane to the north. In most places, terrain like that would be considered too vertical for a house. In Vail, however, the property presents opportunity.

The lot was recently sold, and Vail architect Bill Pierce has designed a "spec" home for the site, to be built by a developer and sold to an as-yet-unknown client.

Given property values in Vail, the home proposed for the site "maximizes the lot's potential," as planners say. In layman's terms, the proposed house is big: more than 5,100 square feet not counting the garage, with a rise of more than 45 feet from the street level to the top floor.

While it's large, the proposed home also meets all the town's codes. In fact, it's perhaps 100 square feet smaller than it could be, doesn't use all the allowable site coverage on the lot, and is within the town's required setbacks from the lot's edges.

Still, the proposed home isn't sitting well with the Villeaus, or next-door neighbors Tony and Cindy Ryerson. If built as proposed, the home will be 25 feet from the back corner of the Villeaus' home.

While acknowledging the project meets the town's requirements, the Villeaus and Ryersons believe the home threatens to change the spirit of the neighborhood, putting the top floor of a house where a hilltop now stands, and, more important, interfering with their own views and privacy.

To rally support for changes to the home's design, the Villeaus recently held a picnic at nearby Bighorn Park. More than 50 people turned out, and even more area residents have signed a petition urging the town's design review board to deny the application as presented. The Villeaus and Ryersons both said they'd like the top floor of the home moved off the top of the hill.

But while the town's design board is charged with respecting the character of existing neighborhoods, the group can't ignore the town's rules.

"That's the line they have to walk," Vail Community Development Director Russell Forrest said.

In addition, when designers need to draw plans that take as much advantage as possible of very expensive real estate, not everyone will be pleased. Town Planner Matt Gennett is working with Pierce on the new project. Moving the home off the hill would probably require reducing the structure's size by one-third or so, at which point the project no longer makes economic sense for the developer.

What the Villeaus are facing isn't new. The fact is, as new homes are built in existing neighborhoods, those new structures are changing the face of older areas.

"There are some very large houses near Bighorn Park, right next to multi-family structures," Gennett said. "As things get built out, we'll get those situations."

The difference is the change of values over the years, Forrest said.

"In East Vail, and especially in Matterhorn, we're looking at homes built on small lots, generally built in the 1960s and '70s, that use a fraction of the lot. We're seeing changes in those neighborhoods as bigger homes are built."

Pierce said he's seen a lot of changes to older neighborhoods over the years, both as an architect and a member of the Design Review Board (he's recused himself from discussions of this project).

"I tell people all the time that all the easy projects have been done," Pierce said. "There are only hard projects left."

Besides the home he designed on Juniper Lane, Pierce pointed to a pair of new homes being built on West Forest Road. Those homes, he said, are being built on sites that a few years ago wouldn't have sold because putting homes on them is so difficult.

And Pierce, who lives less than a half-mile from the lot, took some pride in the job he did with the Juniper Lane project.

"We have the garage and two bedrooms at street level," Pierce said. "That lessens the impact for the greatest number of people."

As Vail continues to evolve, more homes are likely to get on neighbors' nerves. "The challenge," Forrest said, "is how do you sensitively put them on lots?"