County officials meet with Avon Council, discuss housing and transportation
AVON — Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan says the governmental agencies across the valley have a “good, working relationship.”
On Tuesday, County Commissioners Jeanne McQueeney, Kathy Chandler-Henry and Ryan met in the Avon council chambers with members of the Town Council and town staff for a joint work session.
Most of the 90-minute discussion focused on how the county and towns, like Avon, can collaborate on joint issues including housing, transportation and sustainability. The commissioners’ visit in Avon is part of a tour to towns in the valley to find common goals and ways to meet the needs of Eagle County residents.
“There are things we can’t do on our own, but we could with the help of towns,” McQueeney said. “It’s really a whole plan.”
A countywide issue, affordable housing continues to be at the forefront of many Eagle County communities.
Avon Town Council member Scott Prince asked the commissioners what strategies the county is taking since Ballot Issue 1A was turned down by voters in November of last year. That tax that would have raised money to be put toward affordable housing initiatives.
Ryan said the county is getting a multi-jurisdictional group together to lead the county’s efforts. She also said Eagle County is aware of some potential properties to build on and is putting deals together and finding what other groups — towns or businesses — can get involved to ease the burden.
The next steps include getting that group together and working through projects one-by-one. McQueeney said the county is creating an evaluation tool to determine what projects to do.
“There is something to be learned by those communities that do it very well,” Avon Mayor Jennie Fancher said. “We can learn a great deal by working together with our neighbors outside of Eagle County.”
While Summit County is a possible template to follow to bring more housing to Eagle County, Ryan said communities doing well have been able to pass tax initiatives to get funding, something Eagle County voters turned down last year.
The county does have $3 million in funds and some county-owned property to possibly jump start the affordable housing push in the county, Ryan said.
The Vail Valley Partnership — the valley’s chamber of commerce — continues to be a driving force in bringing affordable housing to the county, as well, and is pulling together towns and businesses to tackle the problem collaboratively.
Avon Town Council member Amy Phillips said the collaborative effort is missing Beaver Creek businesses, which should have a “seat at the table.”
“It’s kind of like they’re just letting us do all of the work,” Phillips said.
Another challenge the county and towns are trying to tackle is transportation.
Avon Town Manager Virginia Egger said Tuesday that town staff is going to Aspen soon to look at how that mountain town addresses certain issues, including bike share programs, electric vehicles and other aspects of commuting.
Chandler-Henry told council members and staff about how the county helped implement a bike share program in Basalt. There, a universal card can be used to rent bikes from the racks as well as ride the region’s bus system.
Council members seemed interested in the bike share program, something they are considering starting in Avon.
McQueeney explained the program in Basalt and talked about how the bike stations themselves are moved throughout the day to follow the traffic. The stations are easy to transport, so if a location isn’t seeing enough traffic, then the racks can be moved.
Phillips said she sees the value in a bike share program on the valley floor, but electric bikes might have to be incorporated to go cross-county.
In Avon, staff is looking into a possible bike-to-rail program, started in other places around the U.S. With train tracks going through the heart of town, a fixed bike-to-rail could help get people off the roads and onto bikes to commute around town.
The problem with the railroad involves collaborating with Union Pacific Railroad, which is hesitant to allow any changes to its lines.
“There are railroad issues in every community,” McQueeney said, adding that the county wants to see which towns have any success with Union Pacific and then prioritize different projects around railroads in other communities.
In collaboration with multiple town entities, the ECO Transit app is being developed to help commuters get around the county easier.
Beaver Creek continues to go down its own path and has its own bus app, which Avon Town Council member Jake Wolf said works “really well.”
CLIMATE ACTION PLAN
Many Eagle County towns are taking a joint approach to the global climate change issue.
Fourteen groups have joined the climate action plan in attempts to reduce the county’s carbon footprint. The plan allows towns to adopt as much, or as little, of the plan as their elected officials want.
On the county level, climate has become one of the “hottest items” of discussion, Ryan said. Eagle County has staff dedicated to the topic and is considering making a department for it.
Avon’s coming meetings include a look at the climate action plan and what the town wants to prioritize moving forward.
Eagle County fixed leaky buildings and added solar energy sources, reducing greenhouse gases and saving taxpayers $300,000 a year, Ryan said.
Avon is considering a Pay As You Go program for trash, which would charge based on how much trash you produce, incentivizing people to recycle more.
“I think as a society we are moving in that direction,” Ryan said of recycling.
Ryan said the county’s sustainability staff can help find haulers when the town’s current recycling contract is up.
“It’s the first step,” McQueeney said. “The plan is out there. There’s a lot of different ways you can take that plan.”
The gathering Tuesday was also an opportunity for members of the council to ask the commissioners to clarify county services provided to both towns and unincorporated areas. Towns, which pay a .5 percent sales tax into the county’s general fund, tend to believe they aren’t receiving adequate service for the revenue they provide.
“Everyone sort of thinks they’re getting short-changed,” Ryan said. “It’s good to look at the data and better understand each other’s needs.”
Ryan cited similar concerns from El Jebel and Basalt, where the county examined the numbers and found the town is actually being subsidized a little bit.
Fancher and Phillips said they have heard concerns around town about “fairness” regarding police services.
With common goals and challenges moving forward, county officials and towns will continue to collaborate to move in the right direction.
“We really appreciate the partnership with you,” Ryan told the council.
Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.
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