Avon Town Council candidates answer hot-topic questions at forum
October 18, 2016
AVON — Five candidates are running for three open seats on the Town Council, looking to join council members Megan Burch, Matt Gennett, Scott Prince and Sarah Smith Hymes.
Issues facing the town, both regionally and locally, include parking, special event funding, redevelopment and transportation.
On Monday, candidates Amy Phillips, Peter Buckley, Jennie Fancher, Jake Wolf and Trevor Spinks held an open forum in Town Hall with moderator Brian Sipes, discussing their ideas and why they think they deserve to be on Town Council.
One of the most talked about topics of the night was parking, especially with Beaver Creek charging for parking in its lower lots this winter.
The first question from Sipes to the five candidates on Monday was about the biggest issues and opportunities for Avon and how to address them.
Wolf opened with "lack of transparency" as a major issue with town government, adding there are "things going on that aren't quite transparent." Fancher cited a community survey where residents ranked walkability and affordable housing as the two biggest issues facing Avon. Buckley said the "immediate, pressing issue in the town of Avon right now is parking." Phillips followed with her biggest opportunity for Avon being redevelopment and future planning. And Spinks touched on affordable housing, saying, "We need to find out a way to keep locals here."
With many of the challenges facing Avon being regional problems, Sipes' next question was asking the role Avon should play in regional issues.
Fancher cited many regional issues, including housing, economic development and transportation, adding that "working together is helpful" when dealing with problems that face most of Eagle County. Phillips believes "Avon should be a leader in almost all regional cooperatives."
Other candidates focused their answers on how to address Avon's issues. Buckley has an idea for a transportation center where Traer Creek is to shuttle people to The Westin's gondola, saying the town needs to be "smarter" with its money, and Spinks said improved transportation could bring tax revenue to town. Wolf said the town needs to focus on education.
With a premier outdoor venue in Avon at Nottingham Lake, Sipes asked the five candidates their views on special events and how they should be funded.
Buckley wants special events to be for-profit with a person making a base salary and being paid on commission of the events so that the town doesn't have to pay for festivals and concerts that come to town. Phillips said the event center should be a focal point for the town but the funding is "complicated." She said she has a few events across the state in mind that would be willing to come to Avon. Spinks said spending town money to bring people to town and to other businesses is a good thing.
Wolf said people attending the special events "are buying the town" and the town as a whole needs to provide a high level of customer service. Fancher said "it's very tricky finding a balance" because there are similar events happening across the state, making it hard to draw people to Avon. She said the town has been providing seed funding for certain festivals, including WinterWonderGrass, for up to three years.
One of the most talked about topics of the night was parking, especially with Beaver Creek charging for parking in its lower lots this winter. Sipes asked the candidates their thoughts on parking, both short-term and long-term, as well as their thoughts on street parking and garages.
Spinks said "parking is an ancient issue" and that "it's not Avon's job, in my opinion, to provide skier parking for free." He said he favors parking structures as a longterm solution and a possible location for the structure could be the current Town Hall, which is moving to the Skier Building.
Wolf was more hesitant on addressing a problem that "might exist" with Beaver Creek's new $10 charge for parking. "We don't know what's going to happen next," he said. He said when a problem comes up, the Town Council then addresses it. "It's not up to me. What do you guys want?" he asked.
Fancher said the town currently has a consultant looking into the parking in Avon. There are 47 spaces designed to go on Benchmark Road, and a parking structure is in the master plan. She said she doesn't think the town has a problem now but will in the future. "It's not our job to fix Vail Resorts' problem," she said.
Buckley took a different view, saying, "We have a parking problem right now and it's going to get worse when Beaver Creek starts charging for parking." He wants to talk to the major local landowners and developers to work on better transportation. "It's going to come, and it's going to bite us," he said.
Phillips said parking has been an imminent problem for skiers, saying, "many of us knew it was coming." She thinks locals of Avon should be taking advantage of the public transportation to the resort and wants to expand transportation.
SALES TAX REBATE
Avon considered a $500,000 sales tax rebate to fill the empty Sports Authority space with Sun & Ski Sports, a national retailer. It was eventually turned down after uproar from local businesses, and Sun & Ski is moving into the space anyway. Sipes asked the candidates their views on incentives to bring business to Avon and as an economic development tool.
Buckley said he's against anyone getting a sales tax rebate "for any reason at any time," adding the town doesn't need to hand out "hard earned tax money."
Phillips said she's not for sales tax rebates, but public-private partnerships have led to good deals for the town, including the partnership with The Westin, which she worked on when she was on the council. With redevelopment looming, she said it's a good opportunity for public-private partnerships, but not sales rebates.
Spinks said the "Sun & Ski was a really bad deal," but public-private partnerships can bring value to the community. He said the deals should be for something "unique" that would "improve quality of life."
"I was embarrassed that even got put in front of us," Wolf said. Because it was a business that is not new to Avon, Wolf said he was against it, but he would consider it for something different that would benefit the town, like a Whole Foods.
Fancher said the Sun & Ski deal was a great example of how the council embraces the public process and that economic development tools have helped with the Westin, Wyndham and the gondola. "They can help attract business to a community," she said.
Sipes ended the forum by asking candidates to talk about something that wasn't discussed and how they would address it.
Wolf spoke again about transparency. "I have no faith and confidence or belief of the things our town manager does," he said. "It's a conduit problem, and it needs to be fixed."
Buckley echoed Wolf's concerns, saying the town manager "forgets who she works for."
All five candidates share a passion for the town of Avon, but only three will be selected to the Town Council on Nov. 8.
Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.