Courtesy of Winter Park
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November 21, 2006 — Editor’s note: Since this story was first written, a group of Beaver Creek homeowners has filed a pending lawsuit in an effort to block Vail Resorts’ bid to build an alpine slide at Beaver Creek. Meanwhile, the Forest Service is reviewing a plan to build an alpine coaster at Vail’s Adventure Ridge.
EAGLE – A county commissioner meeting proceeding placidly toward approval of an alpine slide at posh Beaver Creek Resort took an abrupt downhill plunge Tuesday, Nov. 21, when an attorney for the homeowners accused the ski company of improperly influencing the vote.
Rick Johnson, an attorney for the Beaver Creek Property Owners Association, asked county commissioner Arn Menconi, founder of the nonprofit Snowboard Outreach Society, if he improperly met with Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz within a week of a previous hearing on the contentious issue.
Johnson also accused Menconi of bias in favor of the slide because SOS receives funding from Vail Resorts, which has proposed building the slide in the tony ski resort’s Haymeadow beginner area over the objections of numerous well-heeled homeowners, including former president Gerald R. Ford.
Menconi declined to respond to the accusations of impropriety on the advice of deputy Eagle County attorney Bob Morris, who then accused Johnson of going “way beyond the bounds of legitimate lawyering” and asked him to sit down.
Johnson kept standing and continued to badger Menconi, telling him he could “answer the question now or in a deposition” – alluding to an almost certain court battle over the slide unless the two parties can come to an agreement.
At that point the commissioners got up and left the room without voting, with some members of the affluent audience shouting out their own accusations, including irate homeowner William Stone, who accused Vail Resorts of buying the vote and added, “I’ve seen kangaroos courts in my day and this was one.”
The commissioners returned about 10 minutes later and quickly voted 3-0 in favor of the slide, which uses wheeled sleds on a twisting track to send riders hurling down the mountain.
Homeowners have objected to the summer-only slide because of the potential noise in warmer months when their windows are open and because the slide is more of an amusement park ride than a ski-area use.
“One, it’s a breach of trust, and number two it’s a nuisance,” Johnson said of the slide, which he claims violates the resort’s development agreements. “It’s not Disneyland.”
But Diane Mauriello, attorney for the ski company, countered the slide is a very appropriate use given Haymeadow’s open-space recreation zoning and stated that homeowner concerns about noise and the environment have been addressed.
“We are not envisioning a Six Flags type of environment at the bottom of Beaver Creek,” Mauriello said. “We do not want to take any actions that will destroy all the property values in Beaver Creek and destroy the customer’s experience.”
Mauriello also cited industry precedent for the project. Vail Resorts operates an alpine slide during the summer at Breckenridge, and Winter Park also has a summer-only alpine slide. Vail Resorts contends it needs the slide at Beaver Creek to bolster summer visitation.
Johnson argued Beaver Creek has morphed over the years from a seasonal mountain resort to a year-round, gated community where amusement park rides have no place.
“Nobody wants an alpine slide in their back yard,” he said. “It’s totally inconsistent with the residential use of that property, and like it or not that’s what Beaver Creek has become.”
Menconi said he was voting to overrule the homeowners’ appeal of county planner Keith Montag’s decision that Vail Resorts had the legal right to build the slide based on what was best for the greater community.
He contrasted the 300 people who live in the seven square miles of Beaver Creek with the more than 35,000 in all of Eagle County, and the thousands of tourists who visit from all over the country.
“This is the type of activity that I think would be very compatible for people who live and work here and for people who consider this one of the finest recreation destinations in the world,” he said, adding the county goes to great lengths to market itself around the world as a place to come and have fun.
Because Tuesday’s hearing was closed to public comment and was supposed to be no more than a question and answer session with opposing attorneys before a final decision, all of the commissioners objected to Johnson trying to build a record for future legal action.
Johnson also accused Vail Resorts of trying to sway the commissioners’ decision by running a full-page ad in Monday’s Vail Daily facing an article previewing Tuesday’s hearing and sending the paper a letter to the editor from general counsel Martha Dugan Rehm defending the project after the record had been closed.
After the commissioner left the room and before their official vote, Johnson entered those items as exhibits with the county’s stenographer while ski company attorney Mauriello stood nearby and objected.
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