VAIL — Housing has been on the public-policy back burner for a while, but it’s creeping back. But has the target market changed?
In the previous decade, the valley’s rapid growth put a serious squeeze on people ranging from lift operators to families. With supply short and prices skyrocketing, a 2007 Urban Land Institute report showed the Vail Valley had an immediate deficit of at least 3,500 units. We all know what happened just a couple of years later.
While the downturn in the local real estate market took much of the urgency away from the “locals’ housing” issue, town officials in Vail continued to look at a trend that had developed over the course of a couple of decades — the flight from town of young families, a phenomenon that left the town looking at a lack of future leaders, among other problems.
With the local real estate market back on something resembling solid ground, Vail officials are looking again at developing a piece of land in the Chamonix area of West Vail. The town commissioned a “draft market analysis” for the property, which was long ago zoned for housing, and consultant Melanie Rees presented results of that study to the council at its May 20 meeting.
Rees’ analysis covered various price points, and how much people would need to earn to afford those homes. That income was expressed as a percentage of median income in the valley, with numbers ranging from 60 to 140 percent of that number. That would have put prices between $135,000 and $425,000
Rees talked about the state of the local market, the availability of entry-level housing and other factors. Then a couple of council members threw all that work into a cocked hat.
Council member Greg Moffet said the 2009 plan for the Chamonix parcel “bears no resemblance to what we want.”
What the town needs, Moffet said, is “deed-restricted” housing — units that have appreciation caps — aimed at professionals with families. Those people want an extra bedroom, a mud room and, generally, more space than deed-restricted housing currently provides.
The problem, Moffet said, is that young families start looking outside of Vail as they have more kids and as those kids get older. Part of the problem is having just an elementary school in town. Then, once kids hit middle school, they’re bused to Eagle-Vail and high schoolers are sent to Edwards. Moffet noted it can be a 20-mile one-way drive from East Vail to Battle Mountain High School.
Looking at more space for less money and cut-down travel times to school, young Vail families don’t have much choice when it comes to buying their next homes.
Council member Jenn Bruno has two kids at Red Sandstone Elementary School now. She said she often sees families move on once their kids get a little older.
That leads to a bigger discussion — what to do with Red Sandstone. The school building is owned by the town, and Moffet and other Vail residents talk often about expanding the mission of the school to serve older kids, too.
Providing ‘Next Homes’
That’s one part of the equation. But part that could be served by Chamonix is providing at least some “next homes” to current residents, or first Vail homes to doctors, lawyers and other professionals just moving to town.
But how many units could fit onto the site? Vail Community Development Department Director George Ruther said the 2009 plan for the site shows 58 units. Expanding the size, and price, of the Chamonix units would mean fewer homes on the site. But would those fewer, larger, homes be aimed at a more desirable group?
For Moffet, who’s been lobbying for years to find ways to keep families in town, Chamonix represents a way to address a group that has few options.
“It’s not that we don’t recognize that the struggling need to be served,” Moffet said. “We’ve taken steps there, but we’ve taken zero steps in this direction ... If we want to do that, we’re going to have to take more leaps of faith.”
With all that in mind, planning for Chamonix seems ready to take a step back, to see how the property — a limited resource in Vail — can perhaps be used to help lure, or keep, families in town.