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Bailing on Vail

Steve Boyd has lived in Vail for 33 years basically his entire life and don’t get him wrong, he loves the place. But the time has come to move on. He and his wife, Tania, and their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter are in the process of selling their North Trail Townhome unit, one of the Town of Vail’s affordable projects, and buying a single-family home in the Bull Pasture subdivision in Eagle.”I think the biggest reason we’re leaving is there’s really not a lot of kids our daughter’s age who are in the neighborhood, so you don’t really have a sense of community,” Boyd says. “The second reason is there’s such a big gap between deed-restricted (housing) and the next phase of your life, which is a bigger house.”Boyd, a construction manager, lauds Vail for its affordable housing efforts, but he says his priorities have changed with age, and a larger yard, a two-car garage and more living space now trump the ski-town lifestyle he was raised in.”Your priorities change, kids are the number one thing, and skiing is down the list,” Boyd says. “Twenty years ago all the families lived in Vail, but as prices go up the families move out. It’s a natural progression.”Boyd doesn’t want to appear ungrateful. He says his West Vail townhome allowed him to get his foot in the door in the local housing market, but with a 3-percent appreciation cap, he says it’s impossible to pull enough profit out of the sale to move into a larger home in Vail.”I wouldn’t say we’re shutting the door on Vail, but for the time being it’s just better for us to move (to Eagle) so that we have the ability to move back to Vail someday,” Boyd says.The politics of housingBoyd and his family are exactly the type of people Mark Gordon would like to keep in town. In fact, Gordon, who’s running for one of four available town council seats in the Nov. 4 election, wants to keep the current level of permanent residents and add 1,500 new locals by 2025.Gordon, 40, and his wife are in the process of adopting a Russian child to bring back to their Vail home. He passionately argues that without a vibrant community, Vail can’t be a vibrant resort.”We’re not going to be Beaver Creek (a gated community of primarily second homeowners) and we shouldn’t be Beaver Creek,” Gordon says. “If we lose our ski-town feel, (tourists) are not going to come here anymore.”Gordon acknowledges there are sacrifices that come with wanting to live on “beach-front” property, so to speak, near Vail’s ski slopes. “It’s like Manhattan versus Long Island,” Gordon says. “It’s a certain kind of person who lives in Manhattan. You sacrifice to live (there), but you’re in the center of things.”Apparently, 4,500 permanent residents agree with Gordon about the buzz that comes from living in the heart of the nation’s No. 1 ski resort, though many of them are likely wealthy enough that their housing sacrifices are minimal.It’s the working and middle classes, who for the past 20 years have been heading down valley in droves, that Gordon wants to bring back into the fold. They will liven up the local economy, even in the off-seasons, and give new life to an aging ski town, he says.Gordon has alienated Vail’s majority of second homeowners by his outspoken advocacy for employee housing, specifically the 142-unit Middle Creek project going up north of the main Vail roundabout. Second homeowners bitterly disputed using town funds to pay for the project, which they considered too big, too dense and an eyesore at the entrance to town.Even though second homeowners don’t have a vote in Vail elections, they are a formidable force that makes up 69.5 percent of the property owners in town (approximately 4,639 of Vail’s 6,671 residential properties). Gordon says his platform does not exclude them, but rather seeks to embrace absentee owners as major contributors to the makeup of the town.”Second homeowners have a very valuable place in our community, and I’d like to see more cooperation to get rid of this adversarial thing, because we both want the same thing; we both want a vibrant town,” Gordon says, adding with a chuckle, “Why can’t we all just get along?”Incumbent council member Greg Moffet points to the 440 deed-restricted, for-sale and rental employee housing units currently in Vail’s inventory as evidence the town is already serious about keeping local workers close to Vail businesses. Nearly 200 of those are in the Timberidge complex that the town took over in a friendly condemnation from a private landlord. Moffet says the town now needs to focus on family housing for more permanent residents.”Realistically the government can make a difference in a couple of areas: making sure there’s a lot of reasons a family would like to live here (community amenities) and also by building moderately priced housing stock and selling it with a deed restriction,” Moffet says.”If we figure out family-of-four housing in this town, it’s not going to compete with anything else. There’s a hole a in the market you can drive a truck through.”Gordon takes it a step further, saying Vail should offer low-interest loans, that in some cases might not have to be paid back until the house is sold, so that new residents can afford to fix up aging townhomes and condos that second homeowners aren’t necessarily interested in taking the time and expense to upgrade.Moffet says that kind of ski-town gentrification is already rampant in his West Vail neighborhood, and he scoffs at those who say it’s impossible to rebuild Vail’s flagging sense of community.”The answer is no, it’s not too late,” Moffet says. “All you’ve got to do is go to the Matterhorn bus stop when the school bus comes and you know it’s not too late. There are probably more kids in my neighborhood than in Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch combined.”To little land, much too lateFormer Vail Mayor Rob Ford, though, says the council Moffet has been a part of for the past four years actively derailed any hope Vail had of instilling a sense of vibrant year-round community.”I don’t see how you can do it,” Ford says of the objective of adding 1,500 new residents to Vail. “It’s over; the issue was done when those guys (the current council) threw out our housing plan.”That plan, which emerged from the Vail Tomorrow community meetings of the mid 1990s, sought to disperse locals’ housing on about 5 percent of Vail’s town-owned open space. The plan proved enormously unpopular with various neighborhood groups, and Ford, for a variety of reasons, stepped down mid-term rather than stay on as a lame-duck on a new council with different ideas. He says the housing plan was scrapped within three months.”Everybody wants to go back to what Vail was; but it’s done, move on,” Ford says. “Vail is going to be a different place; it is not going to be a community, it’s going to be a resort.”But what I’m saying is not intended to be gloomy you have to understand that Vail is a very successful resort and has the best ski mountain in the world. I just see it as accepting reality.”Families, Ford says, can’t afford to live in Vail and there’s nothing wrong with the inevitable down-valley push.”Vail has become the Vail Valley. The schools are down-valley, the families are down-valley. Do you want to be the only family living in your neighborhood?”Jim Lamont, executive director of the Vail Village Homeowners Association a group made up primarily of second homeowners who object to public funding of housing concurs with Ford that Vail missed a golden opportunity with the Vail Tomorrow plan but disagrees that Vail is doomed to become a gated Disneyland.”You have to integrate social and economic classes in a community,” Lamont says, rejecting the idea that second homeowners want Vail to become a “mono culture of rich people.” But, he continues, Vail is “dealing with two people perpetuating class warfare” when it comes to Gordon and Moffet.In a down economy that could last as long as the decade-long boom of the ’90s, Lamont says publicly funded housing is fiscal suicide, because there is already a glut and because it will become too expensive at today’s prices if the economy continues to lag. Besides, he argues, housing prices should be determined by the free market.”I think everyone is questioning that premise that Mark Gordon is pushing, which basically put is, are we going to continue down the road of municipal socialism and social engineering or are we going to rely on the market forces given the housing inventory that we currently have, not what is hysterically promoted by the advocates of social engineering?” Lamont says.Lamont goes on to argue that affordable housing, particularly as its being built now in densely clustered complexes, is demeaning to its residents.”You’re still living under the government’s thumb you’re living in the company’s store and that doesn’t help people’s sense of security and well being. You’re in essence a ward of the state.”Those who push housing as a political issue are misguided and missed their opportunity, Lamont argues. The result is the atrocity of Middle Creek.”(The current council) didn’t want a Ford plan that would have dispersed housing throughout the community, and they forced them out of their neighborhood and lumped them in a project that was politically feasible for the moment.” Lamont says.Ford says he knows why the current council approved Middle Creek, but agrees with Lamont that it’s all wrong. “I understand why they did Mountain Bell, because they were so scared by some of these neighborhood activists that they picked something they knew they could get done.”But the feedback we got from everyone (in other resorts) was, don’t build it in one place, you can’t cluster it and don’t build it in high rises, which is exactly where Vail is headed now. You have to make (workers) feel like part of the neighborhood and give them that community feel.”


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