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October 7, 2012
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Time to review housing, energy policies?

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - It wasn't so long ago that experts said Eagle County was short 2,500 housing units, with thousands more needed in the future.

The county's economy is very different these days, of course, which is the basis of this week's question to the five people running for two spots on the Eagle County Board of Commissioners:

During the last decade's boom years, the county passed measures including affordable housing regulations and a package of building codes to encourage construction of more energy-efficient structures. Given the times, do those regulations need to be re-visited? If so, which ones?

Courtney Holm, Republican, District 2

Eagle County has greatly changed in the last decade. In 2002 homes were appreciating at a steady and impressive rate, construction projects were plentiful, and income on the whole was more comfortable. 2012 is time of home value depreciation, excess inventory of available home rentals and sales, and a significant decrease of employment and income.

Our community faces higher than average home values when the economy thrives and conversely undervalued properties in times of recession, including current homes that may be underwater, including some deed restricted properties. We need to be cognizant to the changing needs of our residents and repeatedly assess where we are and where we are heading. 2002 had a greater need for affordable housing; in 2012 we need to stimulate the Eagle County economy so that or residents have income to provide for their housing needs and to fill our inventory.

Proactively addressing the needs of our residents is imperative. We need to take an in-depth look at what helps and hinders in the areas of housing regulations, deed restrictions, and building codes on a regular basis and whether the regulations apply in a depressed economic environment and how we can be more responsive to the current situation.

Jon Stavney, Democrat, District 2

Good policy is a work in progress, and shouldn't be set in stone. These programs should be reviewed, and we are on schedule to do so in the near future.

The housing guidelines, passed in 2008, not long before everything about the market changed, must be reset to today's realities. Even at the height of the market, they were unrealistic (and years behind the curve). A more moderate program started 15 years before would have been more fruitful, but hey. The good news is that review process is under way at a staff level. -

The ECO build checklist and guidelines have been a success, and ahead of their time. Most of what was contained therein was always understood as good building science by good builders anyhow. It was something of a game to exceed the points. As building codes make much of those expectations the norm, the question is how useful is the checklist, and should it be updated. It should.

Also, the most contentious part of the program is the External Energy fee that penalizes wasteful uses (mostly snow-melt) to fund energy efficient projects elsewhere around the county. A number of residents have appreciated the solar rebate program and it has been a boon to the Clean Energy Collective, which does regional projects. -

This program, too, is one worth a thorough review with industry partners and the public.

Jeff Layman, Republican, District 1

Yes.

In fact, they should be re-visited on a regular basis - bad times and good. What worked in 2006 doesn't work now. And what will work now won't work in three years. Employee housing is cyclical and dynamic.

I support continued periodic analysis of the market and the guidelines that require employee housing so that we can respond quickly to market conditions and not rely on a static document. In the current market, for example, why require additional housing to be built when so much is already available. All we're doing is "piling on" those who are struggling to hold on in tough times. Why further depress their home values by adding housing inventory? We should be finding ways to incentivize adding to the stock of "employee housing" by absorbing that excess.

Housing our employees will always be a need in our community. If we want a "world-class" economy, we must have world-class employees. We must be willing to provide housing that befits our "world-class" status so that our guests will be well taken care of.

I want to a part of an effort in which we all work together to find a better way forward in addressing this critical component to our continued success.

Dale Nelson, independent, District 1

Both of these regulations need to be revisited.

The ECO Build regulations are punitive. We can keep the guidelines and instead of punishing the developer give them a break on the permit fees when they add energy saving or water saving devices. We could take it one step further and give homeowners a break on their property taxes if they add a more efficient heating system or create a more water-efficient landscape. Giving people an incentive to do something will be more successful then penalizing them.

Affordable housing has always been a challenge for the area. The affordable housing regulation was meant to offset the housing needed for the additional employees drawn by new development. With the large inventory of housing on the market and the nearly 2,500 foreclosures in the last three years, it would be wise to put a moratorium on this regulation, until the housing inventory is reduced. While we are waiting for the inventory to come down, we need to look for solutions to get people into homes without adding risk to the taxpayer and without competing with business owners.

Jill Ryan, Democrat, District 1

The market has changed dramatically since 2008. I support reviewing and updating regulations and processes accordingly. I believe that affordable housing in a resort area is necessary. It allows people to live close to where they work, creates a good work-life balance, and results in a community of full-time residents.

The county just conducted a needs assessment that still shows an affordability gap for renters and persons at 100 percent of area median income (down from 140 percent). I do think the guidelines need to be simplified. Also, the required percentage of affordable housing for development (currently at 35 percent) and associated offsets need to be reviewed, and the percentage probably lowered. I also think we can enhance options for other public benefits.

I also support a green building code. Energy efficiency pays for itself and applying these measures to new buildings is much easier than retrofitting old ones. I think the codes can be less onerous. Cross-jurisdictional collaboration could produce one shared and simplified code that is based on a national efficiency standard, with amendments that reflect local conditions. I know the conversation has begun between the county and the building community, and I look forward to keeping it going.


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The VailDaily Updated Oct 7, 2012 06:59PM Published Oct 7, 2012 06:57PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.