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Answer at our fingertips

Don Rogers

This discussion rolled mostly on familiar ground, in the manner of objection in search of an argument that could stick. None quite held up as the caller drew up one objection after another and suggested most of that silent majority of locals out there also oppose the project but will never dare speak up.

We’ll never know if most constituents in Vail truly are cowed, which we find highly doubtful, especially in Vail. Of course, silence of the masses gives us all room to interpret. Our experience with those who do express their opinions does not support the notion there’s broad opposition, though. Quite the opposite.

The caller spoke with vehemence against the idea of government getting involved in affordable housing, and said this in particular rankles many locals.

What government should and should not involve itself in is always an interesting philosophical issue. How far beyond police and public works should a municipality go? It’s a great, great question.

The practical answer is that it’s a matter of the public will. Denver, for instance, goes so far as to own one of the largest ski resorts in America, and Vail at one time nibbled at the idea. This is perhaps the most extreme of roles taken on by a municipality. Stepping aside here from an opinion on what’s right or wrong, our governments take on what we ask them to.

And the fact is that Colorado governments, including in the High Country, have for decades involved themselves in affordable housing, Vail among them. There’s a long precedent for this, and large grants available – nothing strange about it.

If Vail truly has developed a philosophical distaste for government-supported housing options, this question should have been settled over a year ago when Vail sought proposals for Middle Creek. Perhaps it should have been settled decades ago, for that matter. Vail government has been involved in affordable housing for a very long time.

There’s not much philosophical about trotting this objection out in the 11th hour of a specific project, though. This has become just one more arrow in the quiver to try to shoot the thing down. But who knows, maybe Vail’s leadership is just dim enough to forget this precedent for public involvement in affordable housing solutions.

The caller went on:

n The proposal doesn’t match a town wish list for such a project – never mind that it comes the closest of the bids and such documents are somewhat less fixed in concrete than the Constitution.

n The rents will be too expensive and the units too small for anyone to want to rent. This will be the easiest bet in town to take. The developers, Coughlin and Co., have to build what will work in order to get their return. The rents aren’t cheap, and the rooms aren’t spacious. But they’ll be inexpensive enough and sizable enough there won’t be much trouble filling them.

n The tall buildings will not fit the surroundings, despite the presence on the site of Vail’s tallest and ugliest structure and Spraddle Creek up the hill nearby. The first plan was for low-lying buildings tucked more out of sight, and Vail’s leaders insisted on the taller buildings that would use fewer of the buildable acres, down to about 2 of 26 acres in all on that site.

But imagine, tall buildings in a town of tall buildings. What nerve! And never mind that for up to three miles in each direction, buildings exist along the north side of I-70, many hard against that rock-fall risky hillside.

n Dangerous for tenants, with the location of the apartments on the north side of the freeway from Vail Village. There probably would need to be some safety work here, if pedestrians dominate the apartments. But somehow, half the town has managed to live on the other side of the interstate. Just as children failed to die by the bushel when the ice bubble came to Vail Golf Course, so to is this argument exaggerated for effect. Rocket science would hardly be required here.

n And the ol’ there are lots of rental ads in the paper for Vail these days, so where’s the need? It’s an obvious apples-and-oranges argument, the very definition. Really, does anyone truly not understand that a short-term condition is offered as a counter to a long-term solution? Ads in August are offered as proof affordable housing is not needed in Vail? Wow. The prices also offer a telling clue. More supply would tend to bring rents down just a bit in Vail – a good thing for those looking to live in them, if not quite as sweet for the owners benefiting from the short supply and consequently higher prices. That’s not a bad thing from a community standpoint, though.

This is not to say that Vail as a community and government hasn’t worked to address affordable housing. It has almost from the beginning, between business owners setting up employees and the town setting up deed-restricted options along with contracting with owners of properties such as Timber Ridge for specified periods of time as more affordable rentals.

Middle Creek – the result of over a decade of working through the need for such housing, the efficacy of public involvement, the location and at last a viable proposal ready to build now – is one more step in a series for Vail.

It’s also clearly the right step, even with old objections thrown up yet again with such vigor, if not much clarity.

But we’ll say it again. There is no good reason not to build the project now. It’s not even a difficult decision – logically and with the needs of the whole community put first.


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