Guest column: Edwards condos won’t fit
Vail CO, Colorado
As I discussed in a “My View” article entitled, “You Want it Bad, You Get it Bad,” (July 23), Eagle County is in desperate need of affordable housing. Vail Daily’s headlines remind us that labor shortages threaten our way of life here. If workers cannot find housing then businesses cannot operate, and the county economy stagnates.
Poor county planning and the failure of our elected county officials to take early action caused a major part of the shortage. However, now that we are in a crisis state, our elected county commissioners overnight have developed an almost religious fervor for affordable housing.
There is a saying, “When you want it bad, you get it bad.” So watch out county voters, the commissioners could make things worse with their newfound religion. Expect the worst kind of decisions from our elected officials, i.e. decisions made piece-meal and without benefit of a big picture. In this type of setting, developers are bound to link controversial projects with “bribes” of affordable housing.
Take the case of the Edwards Condominium project. The developer, Rick Mueller, is combining a proposed 56-unit high-end condominium building (a $1 million-plus price tag per unit) with a proposal for a 44-unit affordable housing project. That is a better ratio of development units to affordable housing units than the commissioners are considering in their proposed affordable housing guidelines for the county!
But there is a HUGE problem. The project is extremely modern, and extremely large. It looks strikingly like an abstract version of the infamous Watergate Condominiums of the Richard Nixon era. Currently, the proposal is to construct it of white marble and glass. In D.C., it might be attractive. Here, in our mountain environment, it is downright ugly.
It would be located right above Edwards Corner at the intersection of Highway 6 and Edwards Drive. As a structure that is roughly three times the size of the Edwards Corner Building below, it is extremely massive and dominating. With the New York range in the background, I can’t imagine anyone appreciating the distraction of a big city building placed smack dab in the middle of their view.
Rick Mueller says he wanted the Edwards Condominium to stand out and become an icon. In this valley, we try to make buildings fit in, not stand out!
Most of the large home developments in Edwards, such as Cordillera, Singletree, and Homestead, have architectural standards that require home designs to fit into a mountain community. It is essential to maintaining the home values for each of the respective areas. Indeed, that unwritten standard has also applied to most structures built in our local area. Perhaps that is the “look” we locals like or identify with, or perhaps it is because tourists and visitors expect a mountain ambiance. Regardless of the reason, our valley makes a lot of money off this undefined mountain “look.”
This is not a small issue, and all Eagle County residents should be interested. In Vail, there was a long, protracted, bitter fight over Solaris, a building that, perhaps except for its size, was designed artfully to fit into the Vail landscape. The Edwards Condominium project has nothing going for it in terms of fitting with Edwards. Not size. Not architecture. However, unlike Vail, Edwards is not an incorporated town and there is no forum for such a definitive debate as took place in Vail.
Our economy is dependent on tourist and second-home owners who come here for the mountain experience. As Vail and Beaver Creek demonstrate, many of those spenders identify a mountain experience with a certain type of architecture. It would be the height of irresponsibility for our commissioners to experiment with a different mountain look, just to gain 44 affordable units. The damage to our ambiance would be permanent and irreparable. This project comes to all Eagle County citizens with a really big risk.
Our commissioners have this sudden insatiable desire for affordable housing. If the lure of affordable housing causes our elected officials to ignore the well-founded arguments against this project, it will create precedents that will allow other developers to build their own icons (that is what happens in the large cities). Any homeowners association board can tell you that once you get on the slippery slope of approving a some type of variance for one homeowner, it creates a precedent that cannot easily be reversed.
No matter how great the need for affordable housing, our commissioners should not succumb to this project and its related bribe. They should say “no” to the current Edwards Condo design. Mr. Mueller can certainly come up with the design that fits our area, and still sell his units at the high-end price point. And he can still easily include affordable housing as part of the package.
The fact is, not all affordable housing projects are good for the county or its citizens, especially those that may not really be “affordable,” or those that aid a development project that has genuine and serious issues. Indeed, we need affordable housing ” but not at any cost. But if we want it bad, we will get it bad. If we get it bad, the consequences may be worse than the problem we were trying to fix.
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