Vail at the Crossroads

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At that particular recollection, Cohn jumps in: "I mean, you're talking about a project that's $250 million in construction, and you want to talk about flower boxes before you approve the project?"

For Knobel, the inspiration behind Solaris was the struggle to find activities for his kids in the evening. Like many families in Vail, he found himself driving the family down-valley into Edwards or Avon to catch a movie or go to an arcade. If the town didn't find a way to revitalize its commercial core in the next decade, he realized, Vail could find itself in a serious crisis. But when he tried to deliver that message, the so-called old guard dismissed the newcomer.

"They say, 'We know how to do it. We started this town,'" Knobel says. "The truth is that if this town didn't have this mountain, it would be bankrupt, gone, finished. No one's coming to this Bavarian bullshit. They come in because it snowed this morning and it was a powder day and we went and did two hours of skiing and then we went to work and it was great. Okay. But you come back here in eight days and us actual residents have no place to eat. Every restaurant says, 'We're outta here! Adios! We're going to Moab!'

"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."

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Jared Jacang Maher