"Safety upgrades" costing Vail homeowners | VailDaily.com

"Safety upgrades" costing Vail homeowners

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado ” When Kristine Oelberger heard of plans for a major renovation of her condo complex, the Vail, Colorado resident thought she could afford the costs.

However, now the renovation may end up costing the school teacher her home.

The aging exterior of the Breakaway West Condominiums, located on Lions Ridge Loop in Vail, was renovated recently. Oelberger, who owns a 2-bedroom home in the complex, was told the cost would be about $50,000.

After the renovation was complete, Oelberger’s bill came to $212,000, largely due to fire and safety upgrades required by the town’s building codes. The upgrades included adding a sprinkler system to the building, asbestos removal, upgrading fireplaces and flues, as well as improving walkways between the buildings, she said.

The only visible improvements were new siding, new windows and decks, she said.

“With the initial $50,000 assessment per owner, it seemed like a lot, but I was looking into financing options,” she said. “I thought there was a way to make it work and still live here. I can’t afford to pay my mortgage monthly with this additional cost. It’s forced me to seriously look into my options and perhaps foreclosing.”

The town’s fire and safety codes, which were updated in 2003, specify that in major renovations, older buildings must be brought up to date with safety features such as fire sprinklers and carbon monoxide detectors, said Vail Community Development Director George Ruther.

The town is aware that the safety upgrades can be expensive and town staff always works closely with homeowners and building associations on remodel projects, he said. Buildings are allowed to do the work in phases.

In the last few years, other projects which had major renovations and safety upgrades include Pinos del Norte in the Northwoods, Manor Vail and the Village Center in Vail Village, Ruther said. All the projects did their upgrades over a few years, he said.

“The importance of this, although it may be hard to acknowledge, is that that these upgrades are to protect life and property,” he said. “It’s like buying insurance ” you buy it with the hope that you may never need it, but then you do have it when you need it.”

Ruther pointed out that the remodeling at Breakaway West was spurred on by a fire in one of the condominiums a few years ago.

No other similar complaints have come to the attention of the town council, said Vail Mayor Dick Cleveland.

He added that the town’s safety codes are based on standards that are used all over the country.

But homeowner Lars Burghardt said that regardless of phasing, the cost of the upgrades are still too much for homeowners. Burghardt’s mother also owns a home in the complex, and her remodel will cost her about $220,000, he said.

“The town of Vail and their codes for remodeling is going to prevent remodeling and force some people out,” he said.

He called many of the upgrades unnecessary, arguing that taking the wood shingles off the outside of the building is already a significant fire and safety upgrade.

“We never ignore cost as not being an issue,” Ruther said. “We understand that through redevelopment, buildings get improved with a life safety upgrades. But we also try not to make it so prohibitive that it does not happen.”

But that might just happen in the case of Breakaway West. The complex is made up of five buildings. Remodeling on two of the buildings was completed earlier this year. The other three buildings are now opting not to do any upgrades to avoid the costs, according to homeowners.

Oelberger said she feels the process was unfair and unreasonable for people living on limited salaries.

“Five years ago bought this and thought I was being responsible and making an investment,” she said. “Now I feel it’s coming back and kicking me.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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