Eagle town survey: Residents need housing, fear unfettered growth | VailDaily.com

Eagle town survey: Residents need housing, fear unfettered growth

Eagle’s first community survey in nearly a decade shows that much has changed

The Eagle Town Council gathers for its first meeting with two newly elected council members, Sarah Parrish, far left, and Nick Sunday, third from right, on Dec. 14.
Kelli Duncan/Vail Daily

In 2013, Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term as U.S. president; Macklemore and Ryan Lewis dropped their new hit single, “Thrift Shop” and the beautiful town of Eagle was still under the leadership of Mayor Yuri Kostick. That was also the last time the town conducted a comprehensive survey of its residents.

Eagle was home to just under 6,500 residents then — residents who walked down Broadway Street when it looked much different than it does today.

“Typically, community surveys are conducted bi-annually,” a town staff report on Eagle’s new 2021 community survey reads.

Well, better late than never, right?

“Community surveys are helpful to guide policy and benchmark progress related to the town’s priorities,” the report continues.

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This is particularly true in a town that has seen such significant growth over the last decade.

“I think it’s one of the best tools that we can use as a council to understand where the majority of our citizens are coming from,” Eagle Mayor Scott Turnipseed said at last week’s Eagle Town Council meeting.

So, what has changed? Well, for starters, the town’s population is now 7,511, according to raw data from the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau provided by Eagle County’s geographic information systems department.

What growth looks like

This immense growth over the years can be attributed, in part, to mass migration as locals and new families search for more affordable housing downvalley. While towns in the eastern end of the county have reported a reduction in population size since the 2010 Census, the populations of Eagle and Gypsum grew by 15.4% and 24.1%, respectively. Eagle is now the second-largest town in the Eagle River Valley behind Gypsum’s population of 8,040.

Of the Eagle residents who chose to participate in the 2021 survey, 87% were full-time residents rather than second homeowners or people who work in Eagle. This percentage is significantly higher than those reported in recent surveys conducted in Avon (71% in 2021) and Vail (56% in 2020).

Survey participants seemed to skew slightly higher than the average age of Eagle residents, which is 32, according to 2019 Census estimates. There was also an over-representation of women with 58.87% of respondents identifying as female and 38.6% as male. Just over 3% of respondents said they were either nonbinary, transgender, gender-fluid or preferred not to answer.

Survey respondents also skewed toward higher income brackets, with the largest percentage of respondents (26.42%) falling into the $100,000 to $149,999 annual income bracket. The median annual household income in Eagle is $97,806, according to 2019 Census estimates.

The top responses for why people chose to live in Eagle was “quality of life” (74%), followed by its “recreational amenities” (56%) and it being a “family-oriented community” (53%).

Quality of life

More than a third of respondents listed having a “sense of community” as one of their top three determinants of having a good quality of life. Factors related to recreation, open space and parks received even more support on this question — with 62% of respondents saying that access to open spaces in Eagle was a significant contributor to maintaining a high quality of life.

If there is one thing the 2021 community survey made clear, it’s that Eagle residents love their outdoor recreation time.
Town of Eagle/Courtesy photo

Town staff marked this data point as a “conversation starter” in the survey summary. The observation is reflected in Eagle’s recently approved 2022 budget, which allocates a significant amount in capital improvement funds to open spaces and parks.

Nearly all the “top challenges” cited by participants in an open response portion of the survey indicated the town must be tactful in navigating ongoing population growth, from keeping up with increased traffic and affordable housing needs to counteracting the population’s impact on wildlife.

Residents listed their top priorities as the local economy, stream and river quality, broadband and access to reliable internet, “how and where our community grows,” and, once again, maintaining a “sense of community.”

Housing and employment

A housing section of the survey found that the median monthly housing payment across respondents was $2,112, but participants heavily skewed toward homeowners, with just 11% marking themselves as local renters.

Comparing the median monthly housing payment with respondents’ median income level led town staff to conclude that “generally high incomes and housing costs suggests possible ‘price out’ of lower income households.”

About 14% of survey participants marked that they were concerned about or needed assistance with the security of their housing.

While only 0.20% of participants — amounting to just a few people — said they had lost their housing since the onset of the pandemic, 75% reported some level of personal connection to housing cost struggles.

Eagle’s unemployment rate has been impacted by COVID-19, but it remains lower than state and countywide averages. The survey calculated unemployment at 3.65% compared to the state’s 6.4% and Eagle County’s 5.1%.

About 23% of respondents said they work two jobs, which town staff commented may “paint a more accurate picture of the economic situation than the otherwise low reported unemployment rate.”

Predictably, the survey’s section on employment revealed an increase in working from home since the start of the pandemic, but it also showed the average respondent has been working 50-51 hours each week before and during the pandemic. This is considerably higher than the 40-hour week associated with being full-time.

Over 70% of respondents work outside of the town of Eagle, confirming concerns of Eagle as a “bedroom community” that loses sales tax revenue generated by residents beyond town limits. About 40% of respondents spend 30 minutes or more commuting to their jobs.

The local economy

On the local economy, the survey found that the frequency at which people visit local businesses has declined during the pandemic. Patronage of local businesses is strongest when it comes to “the essentials” — such as groceries, prescriptions, health care and veterinarian services.

Survey respondents tended to go up-valley for emergency medical services, sport and recreation equipment and home improvement needs. They tended to shop online for things like clothing and electronics.

Questions like these help inform the Eagle Town Council’s decision-making around how to prioritize use of the little land the town has left.

About 41% of business owners who participated in the survey said their revenue decreased amid the pandemic.

Participants showed a strong interest in more local restaurants and bars, as well as local entertainment and music venues.

When it came to Broadway Street and downtown Eagle Ranch, respondents called for more music, events, public art and renovation of older buildings.

“Help wanted” signs — like this one outside the Brush Creek Saloon — are not uncommon to see in Eagle or elsewhere in Eagle County.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Goals for the future

Of the town’s strategic goals, participants ranked stimulating economic vitality and investing in infrastructure at the top of the list.

Strategic goals around providing better internet service in town was ranked highly by participants across multiple sections, with 26% of respondents reporting “very poor internet service” and an additional 25% reporting it as poor.

The Eagle Town Council recently passed up on an opportunity to invest $10 million in a town-operated broadband network, preferring a phased approach.

As to whether the town’s projects, service and events are inclusive to all community members, just over 14% of survey participants marked “no,” with many saying the town does not do enough to include the local Hispanic/Latino population.

In an open response question on how to improve the quality of life in Eagle, respondents said similar things about inclusion and accepting people for who they are. Also among top responses were addressing the cost of living, adding new events and social programs and supporting local businesses.

Eagle’s 2021 community survey first opened in early February but by the end of March, the town had only received 100 responses completed in Spanish out of a total of 1,070 responses. In a town where 19% of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, town staff knew this was a problem and invested an additional $7,000 into community outreach.

The town hoped to see a total of 2,000 residents respond to the survey, but ended up with 1,146 responses, according to internal data provided by town staff Thursday.

Full survey results are available through a new “survey dashboard” on the town’s website: TownOfEagle.org.

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