Corner Stone of Miller Ranch
Vail CO, Colorado
Here, you can enjoy lunch with even bitter political rivals.
Not that I would count Tom Stone, the now-former county commissioner, as a bitter rival. But we’ve had our moments over the eight years he served Eagle County this way.
Most recently we went toe-to-toe, chins out, over whether Eagle County should change from strict state control to a measure of independence with its own home rule charter. I was for it, and Stone again.
Without rehashing the blow by blow, the unkind cuts, the voters said no in November and again in May to proposals for home rule. And that is that.
Now, in many communities there is no resuming relations after bruising political contests. And sure, it happens on occasion here. But I haven’t found people taking politics quite that personally once the smoke clears. It’s part of what I like so much about living and working here.
If I can have lunch with Stone, we all can get along even with our differences. We have just enough of a sense of live and let live in this community to make this possible. Thank God.
Stone is a recovering politician. There ought to be a 12-step program, actually. But I found him amazingly relaxed when we met last week at Mi Pueblo in Eagle. He said he had sold a couple of properties, but he was still considering what he really wanted to do in the future.
It’s not that he’s lost interest in Eagle County issues. We talked at length about affordable housing, Miller Ranch and how it might be replicated in other parts of the county.
I have long believed that the cost of housing is our largest problem by far. Nearly all of Eagle County’s big challenges spring from this one. Cost of living? Housing. The wage gap? Housing. The labor shortage? Housing. Long commutes? Housing. Lack of real residents in a town? Housing. It’s all tied to the high and still-soaring cost of housing.
Never mind the paradox that no one can afford to live here and yet here we are, our population growing like a weed following a spring rain. Of course, our current 40,000 or so souls living in the county east of Glenwood Canyon would still leave plenty of empty seats in Invesco Field, if you need some perspective. In other words, we’re still a speck, albeit a very expensive one when it comes to finding a place to live.
Miller Ranch is held up a lot these days as a great model for affordable housing. The subdivision comes up routinely in discussions about the county needing five to 10 or more Miller Ranches to begin to keep pace with the need.
Well, the guy who had the most to do with Miller Ranch ” from working the land deal through the construction of the place ” just happens to be Tom Stone.
He did the heavy lifting in getting the land for Miller Ranch, for arranging the private-public partnership that reduced the costs of construction, tying the deed restrictions to an inflation index instead of the usual way, and a million other details that led to the community today.
Stone disputed an estimate that the county subsidized Miller Ranch to the tune of $14 million. No way, he said: The project came out slightly to the county’s profit. Costs of infrastructure in part for schools and the parks near Miller Ranch were not part of the neighborhood itself, he said. Besides that, various state and local entities shared in those costs. And Miller Ranch would sell out those 282 homes on 30 acres regardless.
I wasn’t so much interested in the competing estimates of county investment as Stone’s ideas about how to do more of these projects. You don’t have to like Stone to acknowledge that for all the talk about affordable housing, he had the most to do with building the model neighborhood ” one that many would like to see done again.
For Stone, the answer is simple, if not easy. Identify areas where you want to build affordable housing. Zone the land accordingly, and firmly hold to that zoning. That will keep land costs lower. Let private developers figure out how to build, and make the regulatory process easier. The real problem, Stone asserted, is that politicians aren’t strong enough as a class to hold firm.
Actually, that makes sense, at least to me. Personally, I wouldn’t stop there. I’d use that among other tools for encouraging construction of more housing that we working stiffs can afford in the same general community where we labor.
If I were king of the county, I’ll tell you what else I’d try to do. I’d recruit Tom Stone, now regular citizen, precisely to get those next 10 Miller Ranches built.
Wouldn’t it be something if this county were cool enough that current commissioners Fisher, Menconi and Runyon could get behind that? You know, I’d really be proud to live here if that happened.
Maybe it’s something worth discussing over lunch.
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