New housing ideas will come before Avon council in 2020
List includes purchasing deed restrictions, developing national forest, examining vacancy tax
AVON — The Town Council is likely to hear a wide variety of options when town staff seeks direction on where to go with the town’s housing plan in 2020.
The town’s housing plan, as well as the town’s strategic plan, calls for the town staff to present housing ideas to the council on an ongoing basis. Town Manager Eric Heil said one of those meetings will occur in the first part of 2020, likely February.
Heil said the idea is to look at “where we are with all of our activities, all the different projects we’re trying to move forward, as well as the planning, as well as the analysis.”
Some of the ideas are more radical than others, however, “I don’t think anything is off the table to understand and study and look at what other communities do,” Heil said.
Council members and staff expressed interest in exploring a program to purchase deed restrictions on existing homes in town, talking with legislators about how to see more housing developed on national lands to service ski areas, understanding the concept of a tax on vacant and unoccupied homes, and developing housing on town-owned lands.
The ideas center around a goal to make housing more affordable for workers in town, and Heil said he knows how to get housing projects done.
“I know what the secret sauce is, I know what the pixie dust is, it’s money,” Heil said. “That’s the difference between wanting to get housing done, and getting housing done.”
While some of the ideas, like the vacancy tax, would help raise money, others could offer valuable resources, like land. A deed restriction purchasing program would create limitations on who could inhabit houses that already exist.
“I can foreshadow that the most productive conversations are going to be looking at what we can do with properties that we own, and what we can do with some dedicated funding sources,” Heil said.
Some of the ideas come from far away places, others can be exemplified in towns nearby. In Canada, the city of Vancouver has raised about $40M by instituting a vacancy tax. In Eagle County, a deed restriction purchasing program has found success in Vail.
“They have considerably more resources for administration, but again (Vail’s) secret sauce is they’ve got millions of dollars they can invest in deed purchases each year,” Heil said.
In October, Councilman Jake Wolf was first to mention the concept of a fee that could be levied on vacant homes in Avon, where many residences are unoccupied. Wolf said got the idea from attending a mountain town planner’s conference in Lake Tahoe earlier this year.
“What I saw there scared the piss out of me,” Wolf said. “I saw people living in closets, I saw power being run around buildings with extension cords … a place where they have hit the ceiling as far as development. Looking down the road from here, I saw that that’s not a place where we want to be.”
In seeing people who need housing alongside houses that are empty, “Somewhere in between, there might be something to this,” Wolf said. “Do I want to explore it, yes, because I want to explore every single avenue that we have. And maybe that’s not the avenue we take, but maybe there’s something along that street that helps us get to the place where we want to be.”
Wolf said he received a lot of feedback on the vacancy tax idea, with some strong feelings expressed.
“I don’t want anyone thinking that I’m after the rich people’s money,” he said. “That was never the intention, it was a thought. It comes to my attention that some of our second homeowners are responsible for 80 percent of some of our small businesses here. That’s huge, I don’t want to rock that boat.”
Councilman Chico Thuon was also in attendance with Wolf at the mountain town planner’s conference in Lake Tahoe. Thuon, who works as a real estate agent, said while they heard a lot of great things about the vacancy tax concept in Lake Tahoe, the idea is not for him.
“With all the negativity surrounding even mentioning it, I find that it’s something that potentially may not work for our community,” Thuon said. “But I’d like to see why it worked so well in South Lake Tahoe, I’d like to know more of the positive attributes of it.”
Developing national forest lands
Wolf also said he would like to explore what it would take to see housing developed on national forest lands in Eagle County.
“If you remember Copper Mountain, years ago, helped out their situation with housing by putting employees on the mountain,” he said. “I think that’s a pretty valid idea that’s been passed around for a long time but not really investigated.”
Avon resident Michael Cacioppo said Sen. Cory Gardner told him personally that he would be in favor of developing dormitories on national forest lands.
“My opinion, and I’m entitled to it, is that our liberal governments haven’t gotten on board with this idea,” Cacioppo said told the council. “Why don’t you get with Sen. Gardner and try to make this happen?”
Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes said she thought it was a great idea.
“I know that the forest service actually changed some of their laws to allow this,” Hymes said.
Wolves were a problem for ranchers when Kip Gates’ great-great-grandfather homesteaded in the area. He doesn’t want the problem to return.