Vail at the Crossroads

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"We don't want to become a cruise ship that's in the mountains," Gordon says. The founders "wanted us to be a real place, but they didn't have the foresight to do something with zoning to make sure that there's always the ability for everyone from a ski bum to a multi-millionaire to live here."

The problem isn't just the high cost of housing, but the lack of amenities for families and workers. Gordon would like to see more affordable retail space to encourage more diverse businesses, and he sees Knobel's project as a step in that direction. As a resident of Vail, Knobel recognizes the need to make the town more attractive to families -- and that's the reason some people oppose him, Gordon suggests.

Unlike companies behind many of the other new hotel and residential projects in town, Knobel "is not an outside developer," he points out. "He's someone who's moved his family into town, and they're scared of giving up some power. Maybe this is the last throes of an ex-ruling class throwing around the remaining muscle that they have. I don't know."

Ferry is more blunt. "No matter what anyone wants to think, this is not a sleepy little town anymore," she says. "This is a town that has a lot of money in it and a lot of power in it, a lot of people with egos and a lot of people with goals. And up until now, it's only been them. And he's come in and he's said, ŒI've got a legitimate property that I can do legitimate things with. And I've worked my way through the system, and you guys just can't fuck me anymore, and I'm going to win.' And they don't like that."

Vail is still little enough that it's no surprise when political arch-enemies meet on the street. And one sunny day in April, as Donovan and Cleveland stand near the covered bridge, Knobel suddenly appears.

"Hello, Diana. Hello, Dick," the developer says, shaking their hands like they're old friends.

But later, back in his office, Knobel calls the former councilmembers "shmucks" and accuses them of launching defamatory rumors about his character.

Such outbursts are legendary around town. On April 12, Knobel went to his attorney's office in Glenwood Springs. "He was demanding to see his lawyer and barged into his office and was yelling, using the F-word a lot and demanding attention right then and there, 'I want this and I want that,'" says one Eagle County resident who watched the whole thing. "It was very New York -- pushy, loud, demanding."

Others tell of a January 2 incident when Knobel confronted Alan Kosloff, president of the Vail Village Homeowners Association, at one of the group's meetings. Standing six inches from Kosloff's nose, Knobel let loose with a stream of profanities. "It was way out of line," Kosloff says simply.

But with an election looming, Knobel recognizes that you need to go along to get along. And on Thursday, April 20, he sits inside Vail Town Hall, waiting to see if the group collecting all the referendum signatures will deliver. Waiting with him are Cohn and two of the developer's attorneys. Vail Daily reporter Edward Stoner is here, too. Knobel jokes that one day he's going to buy the newspaper and make Stoner editor, but only after he starts up his own garbage service and puts Donovan, who owns Honeywagon Disposal, out of business. Everyone chuckles. If Knobel is nervous, he isn't showing it.

When Andy Wiessner comes marching through the door holding the stack of petitions, Knobel's attorneys stand and head into the office of the town clerk. The soft-spoken Wiessner was enlisted to run the petition drive because he's led other successful land-use battles throughout the region. His volunteers have collected 552 signatures -- well over the 388 required -- and Knobel's lawyers will go through every single one of them to make sure that each belongs to a valid resident of Vail. Knobel is pretty sure there will be enough legit signatures to get the referendum on the ballot, although he says he's heard about people being misled into signing.

Knobel has been through much worse in Manhattan, he explains: "The difference here is this. In New York City, you don't meet your opposition. Okay. You know, eleven million people. First of all, New York, it's all pork belly. There is no pork belly here. This isn't a town where you walk in and say, 'Who's head honcho? What do I got to do for him?' Okay? It's a different world."

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Jared Jacang Maher