Avon candidates show differences on growth | VailDaily.com

Avon candidates show differences on growth

Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyAvon Town Council candidate Amy Phillips, right, answers questions about housing Thursday during a forum held by the Vail Board of Realtors in Edwards. Avon Town Council candidates Kristi Ferraro, left, Karri Willemssen, and Sharon Peach (not fully visable) also spoke at the forum.

AVON, Colorado ” Avon town council candidates are finding plenty of agreement when it comes to development in Avon, but differ slightly in how they would approach and prioritize growth.

The candidates” incumbents Kristi Ferraro and Amy Phillips, along with newcomers Sharon Peach and Karri Willemssen ” answered questions about development, growth, affordable housing and the town’s real estate transfer tax Tuesday at a forum sponsored by the Vail Board of Realtors. Candidate and former mayor Buz Reynolds did not attend the forum.

The question driving the conservation was this: In order to make our community a better place to live, what is your vision for Avon in the next five years and in the next 20 years in terms of growth and development?

Peach, an anesthesiologist at the Vail Valley Medical Center, would love to see the hospital move to Avon. She said hospitals can be the center of the community, and she wants Avon to remain the kind of place where you know your neighbors.

Moving the hospital to Avon would mean dealing with The Village at Avon and its developer, Magnus Lindholm, who doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with the town.

“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.

Karri Willemssen, director of sales and marketing for Western Seasons, 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.

Phillips, an advertising representative for Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine, said her idea of good growth was high density developments that will allow for more walkers and better mass transportation ” which is exactly what’s being planned in Avon’s downtown.

“I would love to see some shovels hit the ground in the next five years,” Phillips said.

Outside Avon’s redeveloped downtown, there aren’t that many areas where Avon can grow, and new development will greatly depend on decisions made by the Village at Avon and Lindholm.

“I would love it if they did something,” Philips said.

Phillips also said she’d like to see the hospital move to Avon.

Ferraro, a real estate and business lawyer, said Avon needs to be “careful and grow in a smart way.”

Smart growth for Ferraro means staying away from the “green fields” and preserving open space, making sure developments can easily be served by mass transportation, and making sure the town no longer has large parking lots serving very small buildings, as we see in Avon today. She said the new Main Street and downtown will help achieve those goals.

“We do want to make downtown more dense,” Ferraro said. “The Westin is a great start.”

Developments like the Westin could draw second-home owners away from Avon’s residential neighborhoods, and give them a chance to take advantage of things like the gondola at the Westin, Ferraro said.

The candidates also gave their views on the town’s expansion real estate transfer tax. Any time real estate changes hands in Avon, a 2-percent tax is imposed. In years past, there was a one-time exemption of $160,000 on the sale price for people who make Avon their primary home. Last year, the council approved adding a second exemption for people moving within the town.

The Vail Board of Realtors, pleased with that decision, wanted to know if the candidates would be willing to raise the exemption higher than $160,000.

Each of the candidates said they’d consider it ” but expressed doubts as to how well it’s working.

Willemssen said she would consider raising the exemption, as long as people are aware of it.

“If people aren’t utilizing it, what’s the point of it,” Willemssen said.

Ferraro said the purpose of the new exemption was to try and keep local families in Avon and make buying a home more affordable, but so far, only one family has taken advantage of the exemption.

Ferraro said she would rather invest more in down-payment assistance programs, or even a program to help families come up with the upfront transfer tax money, which must be paid at closing.

Peach said she would consider raising the exemption, but for now thinks it would be premature considering the low volume of house transactions.

Phillips said she wants to get a better idea of how well it’s working before considering an increase.

“We need to have a proven record it’s working before we raise it,” Phillips said.

The candidates were also asked what they thought of the town’s affordable housing guidelines.

The guidelines require developers to provide affordable housing based on how many employees and residents a project will generate, instead of requiring developers to provide housing based on the size of their development.

The guidelines also have flexibility, allowing the Town Council to decide how much housing should be provided by the developer on a case-by-case basis, dependent on other public benefits a developer might offer, say building a park, sidewalk improvements or a pedestrian plaza area.

Ferraro said she supports the more flexible guidelines, as it allows the town to consider other public benefits a development might offer instead of affordable housing. The Westin, which has a public 5-acre riverside park as part of its development, is an example of that.

“Does affordable housing trump every other public benefit?” Ferraro said. “We need to be flexible. We can’t have a hard and fast rule and have housing trump everything.”

While there are places where some redevelopment will occur in town, the only major area where we could see significant new developments of attainable housing is at the Village at Avon, and Phillips doesn’t have much faith that Traer Creek will deliver.

Willemssen said being less restrictive on the builders is a good idea, but the town needs to be careful. She wants to make sure the town has plans and strategies in place to make sure there’s enough housing, and that includes making sure Lindholm comes through with his required housing units.

Peach also approves of the flexible guidelines, as it will allow the town to carefully weigh its priorities, depending on the project.

She still sees more that can be done for affordable housing in the town. Providing affordable housing is in any community’s best economic interest, she said, as it will give the town a bigger and better work force.

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

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