Avon candidates differ on priorities | VailDaily.com

Avon candidates differ on priorities

Matt Terrell
Avon, CO Colorado

AVON, Colorado ” On the surface, the five candidates running for town council in Avon, Colorado are revealing few major differences on how they would run the town.

Sift through the statements of incumbents Kristi Ferraro and Amy Phillips, former mayor Buz Reynolds and newcomers Karri Willemssen and Sharon Peach, and you’ll find plenty of agreement on big issues like Avon’s Main street project, and no jarring proposals pushing the town in a new direction.

What you will notice though are differences in their priorities, experience and how they would approach some of these issues.

Here’s a review of what they’ve told the Vail Daily so far and where their differences are showing.

One of the biggest issues facing Avon is the planned redevelopment of its downtown and the construction of Main Street, which could begin as early as this spring.

Each of the candidates agrees that, if done right, the sweeping urban renewal should be a huge boost to the town.

Reynolds though has expressed the most reservation about the whole project, mainly, its hefty price tag. While he acknowledges the Urban Renewal Authority created by the Town Council has secured money for Main Street, he’s worried future economic conditions could end up putting the burden of Main Street on tax payers. He’d like to pursue a wait-and-see approach.

“What happens if the economy here does go down the tube?” Reynolds said. “What happens if we aren’t bringing in the revenue? Who’s going to foot the bill? Is it us, the people?”

Reynolds also said he wouldn’t approve the Main Street plans unless there was a safe, overhead pedestrian crossing connecting the west side of Avon to the east side. When the town’s roundabouts were first built years ago, and Reynolds was on the council, he voted against them then because they didn’t include an overpass.

“If it doesn’t have an overpass to walk from one side to the other, I wouldn’t be for that,” Reynolds said.

Phillips and Ferraro have expressed greater confidence in the urban renewal than Reynolds, while also acknowledging that it’s not a done deal and stressing that the council will have to show a lot of caution and scrutiny.

“My role as a councilor will be to analyze the plans brought forth by the applicants, evaluate all aspects of the plan including the public benefit, listen to the wants and desires of the Avon stakeholders, and make sound recommendations that minimize the risk to the current residents, businesses and guests,” Phillips said.

Ferraro has stressed the importance of political will and partnering with developers to make Main Street work.

“The private sector will be willing to invest in Main Street if Avon shows the political will to make it successful, so that politics won’t derail the town’s commitment to Main Street,” Ferraro said. “Private investors will be convinced of political will if there is community support for the project and a stable town council.”

Willemssen and Peach have also expressed strong support for Main Street.

Peach has said she was impressed with the town’s planning so far. In light of the economy, she said she was in favor of continuing with the downtown redevelopment but would keep an open mind to delaying projects if needed.

“I think Avon is going in the exact right direction ” everyone is going to benefit from the exciting things happening in the town core,” Peach said.

Willemssen says the town should play it safe in the next few months, especially with Main Street spending.

“I think we should hold off until we know what the economy is doing,” Willemssen said.

There seems to be agreement among all the candidates that the town’s relationship with Magnus Lindholm, the developer of the Village at Avon, could be better.

Reynolds has called the relationship “combative.” Peach called it “contentious.” Each of the candidates has called for improved communication.

“We need to put past animosity behind us and create a new working relationship where both sides can win,” Willemssen said.

Peach is a big proponent of having the Vail Valley Medical Center move to Avon, where it would undoubtedly have to go on Village land. She’s said that in this case, her inexperience and lack of baggage would be a good thing.

“I’m happy to have open communication with Magnus Lindholm about true benefits to him and the town on moving the hospital to Avon,” Peach said.

Willemssen said she’d like to see a Miller Ranch type development at the Village at Avon, and like the hospital, knows it could be a hard sell with the developer.

“It has to be Magnus Lindholm’s space ” this is what we need to have, and we need to come up with some solutions for that,” Willemssen said.

Ferraro and Phillips have been more critical of Traer Creek and the development agreement than the other candidates.

Phillips has said the developer has a different set of priorities than the town, and those priorities are often at odds with the needs of Avon. She sees two big areas where the town could find common ground with the developer ” affordable housing and improving the transit system.

Elsewhere, her job on the council is to hold the developer to the agreement, Phillips said.

Ferraro has said the town gave away most of its oversight in the original agreement with the developer, and consequently, could squander its potential by developing in a “piecemeal fashion.”

Ferraro has also criticized Traer Creek for spending too much time fighting Avon over legal technicalities instead of putting its energy into making progress on the development.

“These are issues that reasonable people can resolve with open and public discussion,” Ferraro said. “I remain hopeful that the Village at Avon will one day become an asset to Avon and to the entire Vail Valley.”

With Avon becoming a more expensive place to live, like most of Eagle County, the candidates seem to agree that more can be done to make the town more affordable.

Increasing the stock and variety of affordable housing is one way to go, and each of the candidates have said they’d support more deed restricted homes.

“Currently working families are migrating out of Avon because the stock of housing options in Avon is lacking in ‘move-up’ housing,” Phillips said.

“Avon’s biggest priority should be to provide more attainable housing that can be purchased by locals,” Ferraro said.

Reynolds, a builder, has a problem with deed restricted homes though, which he said are tough to make affordable without lower construction costs. He says the cost of construction materials has tripled over the last 10 to 15 years, and the soft cost, like building permits, tap fees, impact fees, have gone up 10 times in the same time period.

“The town can start by stopping any additional fees or taxes to construction costs,” Reynolds said.

Willemssen has said affordable housing is her top priority. To keep families in Avon, she also wants to focus on bringing in a wider variety of businesses. She says family-oriented businesses build communities.

“Right now residents may overlook Avon as their first choice for dining and entertainment,” Willemssen said. “If we could increase the variety of choices, we give residents a more desirable reason to remain in Avon. Examples would be a movie theater, bowling alley and increased diversity in retail shops.”

Reynolds has also said the town is lacking in businesses like theaters and bowling alleys. “We have to try to lure businesses to our community so we can increase our sales tax revenues and create more desire for people not only to stay here but to come back,” Reynolds said.

Peach said many of the improvements already planned for the town, like Main Street and Nottingham Park upgrades, will both encourage tourism and give families a reason to stay.

“By creating a town core that has charm and appeal, living in Avon will have even more appeal to working class families,” Peach said.

Each of the candidates has said the town should continue efforts to make Avon more environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

Avon has taken-on several “green” initiatives in the past year, such as buying wind power, funding an energy audit to measure the town’s carbon footprint and developing a snowmelt system for Main Street using excess heat from the wastewater treatment plant.

Ferraro and Phillips have approved these initiatives over the past two years on the council, and both have indicated they’d continue supporting these initiatives.

“I am very hopeful our wastewater recovery system to heat the streets not only comes to fruition, but that this project becomes a model for other communities with similar needs,” Phillips said.

“I am willing to invest in a revolutionary heating system that will use waste heat from the sewer treatment plant to melt snow and heat pool water at the rec center,” Ferraro said. “I am willing spend more on hybrid busses and wind energy.”

Peach and Willemssen also say they will support “green” initiatives, and would be willing to invest in them.

“Environmental stewardship is a worthy goal of our municipality,” Peach said. “Avon is located in an environmentally sensitive area and this is a great opportunity for Avon to lead by example.”

“My philosophy is the town of Avon has a responsibility to move toward incorporating environment rules and regulations,” Willemssen said. “This may mean some incentives provided to companies to incorporate this philosophy. Avon can take a lead by reviewing its own operations first by example.”

Reynolds said he also agrees that the town should make environment a priority. Unlike the council, he doesn’t want to see Main Street heated for snowmelt.

“Using the energy to heat a road I don’t think is the best use of the energy,” Reynolds said. “I think it would be a better use of the energy to heat the town hall and also save the expense of installing a heat melt system in the new Main Street.”

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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