Like oil and water, real estate developers and environmentalists naturally clash. Developers sometimes view environmental protection as a man-made mountain of paper work or a bottomless pit of added costs. Environmentalists, on the other hand, often think developers are interested only in profits, regardless of the effect on landscape and wildlife. Few projects represent a true synergy between what's good for business and what's protective of a natural site. But one that does is Beaver Creek, the five-year-old resort and residential community 110 miles west of Denver. Vail Associates, Beaver Creek's developer, has gone to extraordinary measures to preserve the natural grandeur of its 21/2-mile-long valley surrounded on three sides by the White River National Forest.
Before Beaver Creek's 1977 groundbreaking, Vail Associates and various government agencies agreed on a master plan that required more than 50 permits.
Looking at the haphazard growth, congestion, and ecological damage at other Rocky Mountain resorts, Vail Associates believed that the upscale buyer it aimed for would appreciate a scrupulously protected mountain setting, notes Dick Kesler, Beaver Creek's managing real estate broker. And the various governmental entities with jurisdiction over Beaver Creek's 4,876 acres -- more than half being public land available under a United States Forestry Service permit -- insisted on guarantees of such care and protection as well.
Even the Sierra Club, which was actively involved during the permit-application process, was impressed by the developer's willingness to find workable solutions to potential environmental problems. ``I think what we see is a development that has been, on balance, good,'' declares Marty Sorensen, member of the executive committee of the organization's Rocky Mountain chapter.
According to the master plan, when Beaver Creek is fully completed in the mid-1990s, it will consist of no more than 2,100 condominiums, town houses, and hotel units clustered in the European-style village at the base of the ski mountain. More than 400 such units are already up. No more than 229 single-family homes (there are now 65) will stand on the nearby hillsides or along the 18-hole golf course (designed by Robert Trent Jones II).
All buildings must fit a predetermined ``space envelope'' to maintain the ``view corridors'' up to the mountain summits. A design review board requires visually appropriate materials, massing, and rooflines so that all buildings ``snuggle into their surroundings,'' in the words of one Vail Associates official. Native vegetation is required for landscaping.
An elaborate drainage system carries oil and winter's ice-melting salts from the roads, thereby protecting the water purity and wildlife in Beaver Creek, which winds through the valley. A computerized pumping system maintains minimum stream flow. ``That's critical to the insect life, which in turn keeps the fish alive,'' says Cliff Simonton, Beaver Creek's environmental coordinator. ``The water keeps the beavers happy''; they in turn maintain the wetlands along the creek.
Measures to ensure the valley's air quality are even more exacting. In summer, these include dust control for contractors; in winter, wood smoke is the great concern. Mindful that particulate pollution sometimes exceeds federal air quality standards at other Rocky Mountain ski resorts, Beaver Creek's master plan banned wood stoves altogether and limited fireplaces to one per dwelling unit.
Beaver Creek's efforts to control burning are particularly enlightening. When a central monitoring station detects a threat to air quality, it turns on a small red light near every fireplace in the development -- a signal to let the fire die out. Heat-sensing devices tell the monitoring station if the ``red alert'' has been heeded. Failure to do so can bring a fine of up to $500, which Sierra Club's Sorensen has happily described as ``a rather stiff penalty.''
The native elk are another concern. Around 1900, elk were virtually extinct locally because of hunters' relentless pursuit of them. Though on the rebound, the elk remain sensitive to humans. Thus, a 900-acre ``elk enclave'' has been set aside.
For further protection of the elk, blasting and loud construction are restricted during the spring calving season, which coincides with the prime time for bird nesting. Mountainside ski and summer hiking trails, plus lowland open spaces, were situated so that they would not inhibit animal crossings.
Beaver Creek is a financial success for Vail Associates. In 1984, gross residential sales of improved property totaled $53.5 million in Beaver Creek, compared with $45 million in the Vail Village-Lionshead area. Beaver Creek condominiums range in price from $280,000 to $960,000, and single-family homes usually run $950,000 to $2 million, although a $7 million home was recently completed.
Municipal governments and other mountain resorts have contacted Vail Associates about Beaver Creek's master plan, particularly its programs in indigenous landscaping and smoke control. Given this response, Beaver Creek may represent a new form of real estate development, one that successfully combines business and environmental goals.