New countywide assessment takes inventory of housing opportunities
Local municipalities hired a consultant to evaluate the housing policies, land opportunities in Eagle County
In the race to build more affordable and attainable housing, one of the first obstacles local municipalities are facing is a lack of land to build on.
This is why in the spring of 2022, Eagle County as well as the towns of Avon, Eagle, Gypsum, Minturn, Red Cliff and Vail, collaborated and funded a community housing inventory and assessment across their jurisdictions.
The group of governments hired Contour Design Collective as consultants (using grant funds) to not only inventory and evaluate properties for housing potential, but also to articulate the housing policies in each municipality.
“The nicest piece of this report is it begins to establish a baseline of where we’re at and what opportunities exist,” said George Ruther, Vail’s housing director in a presentation of the assessment at the Feb. 7 Vail Town Council meeting.
It also could create a chance for countywide collaboration and partnership on future housing developments.
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“Although advances have been made, all of the partners need to continue to look for more holistic solutions to the housing crisis. Not all of the employees live in the same community where they work, yet communities are taking individual approaches to addressing housing which may be more effectively addressed on a regional level,” read Ruther’s memo on the assessment.
Similarly, the full assessment mentioned that although “variability of housing needs is reflected in the goals, land use policies, and workforce-related land use code requirements,” Eagle County is one region and “all jurisdictions are largely dependent upon each other for these reasons.”
While all the municipalities included in this assessment have a general goal to “provide immediate and long-term solutions to the affordable housing problem,” each community has somewhat different goals, needs and policies within this, said Tim McGuire, representing the contractor at last week’s Vail Town Council meeting.
One of the goals of this assessment was to look at each municipality’s housing policies, code requirements and strategies.
At a high level, the consultant found that the areas “feeling the most pressure,” as McGuire put it have the “most stringent and comprehensive” housing policies as well as the most resources. This included Vail, Avon and the county with policies spanning taxes to fund community housing initiatives, code requirements for residential and commercial projects, assistance programs, established strategies and more.
On the flip side, Red Cliff and Gypsum have “no community housing policies at all,” McGuire said, adding that this might have to do with a lack of resources to address the problem at hand.
Eagle and Minturn fall somewhere in between, as both have code requirements for residential development, but none for commercial development. Additionally, these two jurisdictions have not “adopted additional programs,” such as Vail InDeed, Avon’s Mi Casa and Eagle County’s Good Deeds programs.
Without getting into the nitty-gritty of each municipality’s unique policies around housing, the consultant group did a comparison that illustrates the broad differences. The report analyzed the requirements in each municipality for a mixed-use project comprised of 100 residential units, a restaurant and a boutique hotel.
Eagle County as well as the towns of Avon, Eagle, Minturn and Vail would all have residential mitigation requirements for the project (Gypsum and Red Cliff would not). Eagle County as well as the towns of Avon and Vail would all have commercial mitigation requirements (Eagle, Gypsum, Minturn and Red Cliff would not).
Additionally, while Gypsum and Red Cliff would require no employee housing units, the following units would be required for these municipalities:
- Avon: 5 units
- Eagle: 10 units
- Minturn: 20 units
- Vail: 26 units
- Eagle County: 14 units
With this evaluation, the report estimated a cost to the developer — demonstrating it on a sliding scale, not using actual cost estimates. While Gypsum and Red Cliff have no estimated costs to developers, Avon and Eagle have the lowest cost of the jurisdictions evaluated, followed by Minturn and Eagle County, with Vail having the highest cost estimated.
The second portion of this assessment was a geospatial analysis of the county and participating towns to identify “suitable” community housing parcels that were either: existing community housing parcels, developed land with redevelopment potential, vacant parcels suitable for this use, and all remaining parcels that are occupied or deemed unsuitable for this use.
The idea being “to identify and quantify the land inventory of available land resources that might exist from one end of the county to the other for future housing development opportunities,” Ruther said.
The analysis focused on parcels within a 1-mile setback from Interstate 70, Highway 6 or Highway 24 as well as public bus stops in the county.
The consulting group — with the partner communities — identified certain site suitability criteria for this analysis. Each criterion had a weight that was used to score each of the sites identified from most to least desirable. The criteria included:
- Proximity to items like schools and daycare, highways, grocery stores, bus stops and more
- Development potential including items like slopes, zoning, land ownership and incorporation
- Environmental factors including wetland and riparian areas as well as critical big game habitats
While McGuire acknowledged the criteria did not create a perfect ranking, it creates a good starting point.
“It should be noted that in each community the criteria can vary significantly,” he said. “What we had to do was take an average for this study in order to do the work we did. We did hear a lot of feedback from some of the communities that this is not how we would rank what is most important to us.”
The report found that currently there are 48 parcels — for a total of 1,980 units — that are planned, approved or under construction in all of Eagle County. This includes two parcels in Avon, three in Eagle, 34 in Gypsum, one in Vail and eight in unincorporated Eagle County.
However, looking at future opportunities, the report found 29 parcels with redevelopment potential in Eagle County. This included 14 parcels in Avon, one in Eagle, seven in Minturn, one in Vail and six in unincorporated Eagle County.
For determining redevelopment potential, McGuire said it relied on the communities to “identify parcels that they thought were appropriate” for this use.
“This was a little tricky as well because it’s difficult to look at someone’s property that they’re not necessarily intending to redevelop and put it out to say this is appropriate for redevelopment,” he said.
And, the report identified 153 parcels determined as “suitable for potential expanded community housing units” in the county. This included 19 in Avon, 18 in Eagle, 23 in Gypsum, four in Minturn, four in Red Cliff, 28 in Vail and 57 in unincorporated Eagle County.
While the report is a good start and offers a significant amount of opportunity, there is still a need for further research and data. This includes looking at the actual feasibility of each site (like zoning, ownership, site factors, etc.), determining the number of units each parcel has the potential for, and even creating a central database to track progress for the county moving forward.
Plus, the report as a whole demonstrates the underlying need for more regional collaboration on the issue at hand.
“There’s a lot of individual work going on on this problem — and unfortunately the people who work in Vail don’t necessarily live in Vail and the people who live in Minturn, don’t work in Minturn — there’s got to be a more comprehensive way to look at this,” McGuire said. “It’s obvious if there was a more coordinated effort by the communities, it would really be helpful when looking at this problem.”
Ruther added that with the assessment comes a “laundry list of opportunities that we could look at” and many options going forward.
“We could take this baseline information and extrapolate it in a number of different ways to understand both where we’re at and where the opportunities are for where we’re going here in the future,” Ruther said.