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Ferry: Vail faces crucial housing decisions

Kaye Ferry
Vail, CO Colorado

Here’s a real heads-up to all employers and employees in the Town of Vail: On March 18 , the town council will hold what could be the final discussion on the future of Timber Ridge. Key issues will be decided affecting the community on this largest and conceivably last site for affordable work-force housing.

Two topics of greatest interest to employers and employees are rents and qualifications for renting.

At the Feb. 20 meeting, there was great resistance to using any method to control rental rates. It’s insanity to think the market will control rent on those apartments. Rental rates have always been and will always be responsive to demand. And demand for housing in the town of Vail will always be greater than the product available.

No matter how much progress we make now, this is one problem that will never go away. We will always be playing catch-up which means employees will always fall victim to chasing the market. There is only one way to control rents, and that’s to find some mechanism to control the rate at which they will escalate.

The second part of this puzzle has to do with qualifications. Who gets to live in the new Timber Ridge? Remember, this land currently is owned by the town of Vail and was purchased with the explicit goal of addressing the affordable rental housing shortage. The question never defined is: “Whose employee housing shortage?”

I though that answer was clear: Vail’s. Unfortunately, that consensus has not been reached by the town council. In fact, it was stated that the project would be open to all employees working 30 hours a week anywhere in Eagle County. Huh?

That makes no sense, particularly in light of the horror stories we’re hearing about the shortage of employees. But I was called back to the podium and asked what would happen if the rest of Eagle County established the same rules? So I did some research. I talked to every town manager in the Vail Valley except one who was out of town; instead I talked to his housing administrator. Here’s what I found out.

Vail is the only municipality in the valley that has ever taken general fund dollars and done anything about housing. As one town manager said, “We’ve never put any money from the general fund towards housing, or from any other fund for that matter.” The most that can be said for other towns in Eagle County is they have cooperated in structuring public/private infrastructure financings to avoid statutory debt limitations and other restrictions ” with no risk to their communities I might add. In one case, they are currently working on waiving fees for a project. Only Eagle County has direct control over any housing, and they can hardly eliminate Vail employees from participating.

But contrary to public opinion, Vail has made signifcant strides, albeit, not enough. As another town manager said: “Vail already has gone way beyond what anyone else has done” and “you have a right to solve your own problems.” So to compare what we have done with other communities is comparing apples to oranges.

To be clear, Vail owns the land under Middle Creek, the Commons and North Trail Townhouses, and we control those leases in perpetuity. And once again, it’s our land in question that was bought with our tax dollars, and it should be used to house our employees in this new Timber Ridge.

I was also told that the Economic Council of Eagle County would find it totally appropriate that we limit occupancy to Vail employees. In fact, they’d prefer we keep them here. And, I was told we would follow the Urban Land Institute’s recommendations that work force housing be located near the source of employment for many reasons, not the least of which is to cut down on traffic.

And finally we get to the question of land ownership. We should never sell our most precious asset, land. Many of us, including the Vail Housing Authority, have been ignored with the argument being that the developer insists on owning the land. I might point out that things have changed since this project began. Originally, 50 percent of the units were to be for sale. The current plan is for all rental units. It would seem to me that the original reason supporting the sale of the property no longer exists, and it’s time to re-think this position while we can.

It’s extremely important that you attend the March 18 evening meeting of the Vail Town Council to weigh in on these important decisions that will shape our future. This could be your last chance to get the housing we need with the conditions we want.

On another note: Kudos to the Minturn Town Council for approving annexation of the Ginn project land. In many ways they were between a rock and a hard place. The Ginn development is going to take place one way or the other. So they took the bull by the horns, studied their options and got the best deal they could for Minturn.

Oh sure, Minturn is going to change. But it would if Red Cliff took the deal, or God forbid, the Eagle County Commissioners. Because make no mistake, if Minturn took a hike, others were lined up to sign the deal. And then Minturn would have been left with all of the problems and none of the benefits.

Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Commentary” or search for keyword “ferry.”

Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a biweekly column for the Daily.


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