Housing: ‘Doing nothing’ is not an option for Vail
VAIL — This town’s chronic housing shortage is as bad now as it ever has been. But what will the town, its residents and its businesses do about it?
Alan Nazzaro, the town’s housing director, has only been on the job about a year, but he’s spent most of the past several months assessing the town’s shortage, and working on a plan to help alleviate it. Nazzaro is now putting the finishing touches on a plan that could actually produce some new housing in and around the town in the next three to five years.
Before taking a draft of the plan to the Vail Town Council, Nazzaro on Wednesday evening hosted another public meeting to talk about goals and objectives, and to hear what residents think about the ideas.
Four Areas of Plan
The plan in its early form looks at four broad areas: ultimate objectives, whether the town should allow more units on specific pieces of land, the need for a dedicated funding source and how best to work with other towns and the private sector.
The idea of a funding source isn’t new, and is used in both Pitkin and Summit counties to provide seed money for both new projects and keeping existing homes in the long-term pool.
Nazzaro said keeping existing homes available for local residents — probably via town purchase and re-sale — is ultimately less expensive than building new units. But that will take money, and quite a lot of it.
Other ideas include adjusting some of the town’s zoning to allow, for example, replacing an old duplex unit with several townhomes.
Besides the long history of long-time homeowners selling their units to either second-home owners or investors, resort towns are also dealing with the growing popularity of internet vacation rentals.
While the town has rules requiring owners of those units to buy business licenses and pay lodging taxes, other cities have imposed more restrictive rules. The allure is a good revenue stream.
Local Realtor Larry Agneberg said he has friends who grossed about $40,000 from internet vacation rentals on one unit in 2015.
Those vacation rentals often grate on full-time residents in a neighborhood.
West Vail resident Barbara Brunton said the rentals in her neighborhood bring “too much traffic and too many people” to the area. “We never know who are neighbors are,” she said.
While keeping homes in the hands of long-term residents is probably the first priority for any dedicated funds — which voters would have to approve if new taxes are used — there’s also a need to build more homes and apartments.
Nazzaro said town of Vail officials are in talks with town of Avon and Eagle County officials about the prospect of joint projects in Eagle-Vail and Avon. The town is also in talks with the U.S. Forest Service about a handful of parcels around the edges of Vail.
If those parcels can be obtained — the town would have to buy private parcels elsewhere to exchange for the federal property — then the question then becomes what to build there.
While Vail has limits on building height and how many units can sit on a parcel, Nazzaro said those rules might have to be adjusted in some areas.
“Vail is pretty urbanized now,” Nazzaro said, adding that building a lot of units on relatively small parcels might be an idea whose time has come.
Brunton said that Chamonix, France, has several high-rise buildings that are used for worker housing.
While there’s a lot the town can do, longtime resident Paul Rondeau said Vail Resorts should be doing more.
The resort company had a representative at the meeting, Jeff Babb, the company’s resort operations director. Babb said that Vail Resorts in the last year has pledged $30 million to help with housing at its various mountain resorts.
Rondeau said that isn’t enough.
“It should be $100 million,” Rondeau said.
Whatever happens in the next few years, there are people waiting for the chance to live in Vail. Nazzaro said pre-sales could begin this year at a proposed for-sale project along Chamonix Road in West Vail.
Edwards resident Ali Katz and her family will probably be in line when those sales open.
“We want to live in Vail,” Katz said. “We’ve lived (in the valley) 16 years, and we don’t want to leave. But we don’t have a lot of options.”
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The tragic incident left a nearby camper wondering if more could be done to remove dead-standing trees from popular camping areas.