By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
"Well, that's not a 365-day-a-year community," he says, then laughs. "And they are outta here. But I've got kids. Until May 25, they're still in school. [The opposition] doesn't understand that."
Knobel could live anywhere, but he thinks Vail is the best place for his family. Where else in this world can you ride your bike downhill and be at your work in five minutes? Where else in this world can you be at work and tell your guys, let's go pedal up to the top of Vail Pass? "It's nirvana," he says, pausing for a moment to consider his own life.
So when you're living in nirvana, why continue to go through the endless hearings and debates over Solaris? "Because this is what you fight and you do," Knobel explains. "And it's fun. He doesn't think it's fun," he adds, pointing to Cohn, now lounging in an overstuffed chair. "But you know, it's fun for me."
The fight isn't all fun, though. Asked about a 1997 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, Knobel's face gets dark and his voice strained as he asks what the settlement has to do with a story about a development, adding, "You should think about where the information came from."
The information started with a tip leaked to Vail Daily reporter Edward Stoner, who then wrote an article titled "Knobel Says He Didn't Know About Alleged Scam" for the December 8, 2005, edition. The story discussed a company Knobel owned called Beylen Telecom, which had a client that dealt in Internet pornography, and it gave legs to rumors already circulating about Knobel's past connections to the adult-entertainment industry (see sidebar).
Losing isn't fun, either. For Knobel, losing is not an option. He'll get his project done now or ten years from now, he promises, and in the meantime, he'll still eat in the same restaurants and take summer trips to Europe. It's not about the money. At this point, it's about much, much more.
In her six years on the Vail Town Council, Diana Donovan was known for asking developers a lot of questions. "And I don't ask about what's right, because I don't have to do anything about it," she says. "I ask about what's wrong, so I have a reputation for being negative."
Last November, Donovan lost her re-election bid after she gave a thumbs-down to the Solaris project. Dick Cleveland, another councilmember who asked tough questions, was voted out, too. Donovan blames their loss on Citizens for Change, the advocacy group led by Craig Cohn and another local developer, Mark Cervantes, who is seeking to build in West Vail.
"I think what they really mean is 'Citizens for No Rules or Regulations,'" says Donovan, looking at the Solaris documents and drawings that she usually keeps in file folders in a large plastic organizer but are now spread across her kitchen table. "Because there's been so much development in Vail within the rules. And Crossroads is the first development that came to town and said, 'We're not going by the rules. We're doing our own thing. This is what we want, and this is what we will get.' And lo and behold, they did."
Donovan moved to Vail in 1965 for a job and soon met her future husband, ski instructor John Donovan, who was elected to the first town council and served fourteen years. Diana served on the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission for fourteen years before she earned her own council seat. During her years of public service, she saw quite a few developments come through the pipeline, but never any as alarming as the proposal for Solaris, which she says "would be the biggest mistake Vail has ever made."
And she doesn't hesitate to share that opinion. Her 1,847-word letter printed in the Vail Daily on April 19 detailed "the misrepresentations and the manipulation of facts on behalf of the Crossroads project," not only expanding on the most common argument against the development -- its 99-foot roof lines -- but also questioning the economic viability of the bowling alley and such modifications as the public plaza. (Knobel wants to "build a condo project where every unit has a view," she said.) Donovan concluded with the charge that Knobel has gotten "preferential treatment" compared with other developers.
But no one can say that Knobel's progression through the process has been an easy ride.
In summer 2004, Knobel first brought his proposal for a redeveloped Crossroads before the town planning and environmental commission. It wasn't the first major redevelopment to go before the seven-member volunteer commission. At the time, public officials were already touting "Vail's One Billion Dollar Renewal" with the new $250 million Arrabelle at Lionshead Village, a Four Seasons Hotel, a $70 million Vail Plaza Club and several other developments that would rev up the town's flagging sales-tax revenues. Still, the commission balked at the 113-foot height and sheer mass of Solaris. Members said they weren't sure if the "urban alpine" architecture meshed with the Bavarian style of most of Vail Village.
So Knobel made adjustments to his plans, removing a floor and pulling some of the retail shops away from the street. But the commission complained that the project was still too big, and that December, they voted to reject Knobel's plans. When Knobel said he would appeal the decision to the elected town council, Mayor Slifer blocked that bid, telling the developer to instead return to the commission and work things out.