Fiasco at Timber Ridge
If you left the last Vail Town Council meeting early, you missed out because they saved the best for last.By now everyone certainly must know of my passion for providing affordable employee housing within the limits of the town of Vail. I think Middle Creek is a jewel that we should be proud of and is already being used as a hallmark by other communities.So it should come as no surprise that I supported the purchase of Timber Ridge in order to save over 600 employee beds. The alternative would have been private development, which surely would have precluded employees. A couple of years back we were faced with a reality. Buy the run down rat-trap or lose those beds. Clearly, there seemed to be no choice but to act.Twenty million dollars were spent with a plan to redevelop – all sorts of options meant to keep locals in town. A private developer was on the wish list, along with partnering with some of the bigger employers.What happened? To begin with, the town was short on cash and couldn’t tackle that project immediately, so the decision was made to continue with rentals. Some of the larger companies already had master leases and the intent was to also continue with those. And of course Vail Resorts was one of those companies.Well, they always say, timing is everything. However, in this case the timing couldn’t have been worse.If you go back a little, you’ll remember Vail Resorts got into a HUGE problem with their employee housing in Summit County. Mold. Cost them a ton of money. So when the Timber Ridge lease was put before them, they said, “Hey, what’s the mold situation in that old junk pile?” Or words to that effect.Ask and you shall receive. Bad news, that is. The place was a nightmare. A bunch of work had to be done before anyone could move in. And of course, that costs money. The same thing the town didn’t have to begin with or they would have redeveloped in the first place.To make a very long story a little shorter, they couldn’t afford to fix all of the units, which segues right into part of the agenda item you missed by leaving early on the 17th.The Timber Ridge Affordable Housing Commission came to the town for a $700,000 bailout. Because they are bankrupt. Yep. Those were the words. When the town finance director was asked why they needed these funds, the answer was because they don’t have enough money to pay their bills. “And what would they do if the town didn’t approve a loan?” A shrug was the response. The next question asked very pointedly, “You mean they’re bankrupt?” The answer was yes.So many questions, but where to start?I’ve done a little research. The TRAHC seats were originally filled by the Vail Town Council. It was then spun off and is now managed by the town staff – meaning town manager, town finance director, director of community development, director of public works and facilities manager.The town of Vail Housing Authority has nothing to do with it. As a matter of fact, they have been somewhat confused by the stories floating around the rumor mill. Just snippets from conversations heard at the watercooler.So what was the requested $700,000 for anyway? Apparently there are some unpaid bills. There was $45,000 to a rate cap escrow account that someone forgot to pay last year. You heard me. Then there was $80,000 that was budgeted but uncollected due to that fact that they had planned on “repairing” 120 of the 198 units but only had enough money to fix 114, ergo less rental income.Then there was another on the “ooops” list – oh, I’m serious. There was $60,000 that someone forgot to pay for a letter of credit fee and $200,000 for the rate increase on the bonds because they financed Timber Ridge with a variable rate. The remainder of the money is to be used for mold remediation on 44 of the remaining units to get a positive cash flow going again. All units that Vail Resorts has committed to lease, or so that rumor goes.The final promise extracted at the Town Council meeting was that a request for proposals for 600 beds would be ready for review within 30 days. While I have no expertise in this area, it seems to me that we once again are putting the cart before the horse. There is no underlying zoning on that piece of land, one of two SDDs in the town without zoning. Are we going to embark on another rushed project with an artificial deadline? Shouldn’t we tackle the zoning question before we ask for bids? It certainly can’t be sold without zoning. And while I believe the town should get out of this deal ASAP, didn’t we just blow another million on Seibert Circle? Don’t we have a little money lying around to tide this over until we can get it right? But my biggest question is how did this thing get so far out of control without us knowing? Where is honest, open government in this scenario? Who’s minding the store?I could probably go on forever, but in the final analysis we’ve already spent a lot of money on Timber Ridge. We can’t rush a decision and make it worse than it already is.But you truly have to wonder, at least I do. Is this the best we can do in managing our affairs? And didn’t heads roll at the Vail Recreation District when they “forgot” to do something? Think about it. The rest of us would be hung from a flagpole in the main Vail roundabout if we mishandled public funds like this. More next week.To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail email@example.com. For past columns, vaildaily.com-columnists or search:ferry. Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail, Colorado
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