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Action on affordable housing urged

Kira Horvath/Vail DailyPanel member Gary Altergott speaks about development in Edwards during the Urban Land Institute's presentation of their findings at the Cascade Village Theater on Friday.
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VAIL ” Stop talking and start working. That, in a nutshell, was a message consultants gave Friday to a group of local government officials, business owners and real estate people at the Vail Cascade Theater.

The work, and lots of it, needs to be done to get control of the county’s housing problems.

The consultants, a panel of architects, land planners and financial specialists, were provided by the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit group that advises the real estate industry.

The eight-member panel spent arrived in the valley Dec. 9 and immediately began a series of tours and interviews, then spent two days writing a list of recommendations.

At the top of that list is a countywide housing authority that would have the ability to sign contracts with developers, and, perhaps, collect taxes.

Getting the county and its towns to cooperate at that level would be tricky. But group spokesman Tony Salazar said the consequences of not acting could be disastrous.

“If you don’t have the political will to act, you’ll be the county equivalent to a third world country,” Salazar said.

That doesn’t have to happen, but heading it off will be a big job. Panel members estimated the Eagle Valley portion of the county will need 8,500 new rental and for-sale homes in the next decade.

“You’ve got a daunting task,” Salazar said. “But this is not a lost cause. It’s very manageable if you come together now.”

But coming together is easier said than done. During a brief question and answer session after the panel’s presentation, Avon Mayor Ron Wolfe questioned one of the panel’s basic premises.

“Your assumption is that a sustainable economy must have endless growth,” Wolfe said. “I don’t know if that’s true.”

Panel member Bill Collins, a land planner from Jackson, Wyo., said how much growth the valley wants will be an important question for locals to answer.

But, Salazar said, a lot of the valley’s economic picture can’t be controlled locally. That’s what makes acting on what can be controlled so important.

Wolf Mueller of Vail , who owns apartments in town, called the panel’s ideas about encouraging housing a form of “socialism.”

“There’s got to be a balance,” Salazar said. “We’re not trying to stop the private market.”

What’s needed, he said, is a balance between private profit and the public good. That balance includes both government and private enterprise working to build homes for the local workforce.

Glenn Heelan owns property in and around Eagle and Gypsum. He said he was encouraged by the panel’s presentation.

“I think they’re right on point,” Heelan said.

Asked if the panel’s recommendations would make it more difficult to develop his land, he said no.

“I’m very interested in affordable housing,” he said.

Ross Graves has helped develop Chatfield Corners in Gypsum and Miller Ranch in Edwards. He said the panel’s recommendations are “great stuff,” but wondered how long the enthusiasm would last.

“If we don’t do something now, our growth is going to stop,” Graves said. “But you can’t just stop doing what you’re doing and build 8,000 units of affordable housing.

“In the long term it will take a huge amount of political capital, and neither government or the private sector can do it without the other’s help.”

Some of the political will could be a decision just to stop studying the county’s problems.

“If you go onto Google and look up Eagle County there’s study after study after study,” Salazar said to the audience. “Enough, already. We want this to be your last study.”

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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