Stavney: Building in Eagle Co. without rules won’t work |

Stavney: Building in Eagle Co. without rules won’t work

Jon Stavney
Vail CO, Colorado

The Eagle County commissioners are on the brink of approving housing guidelines to establish a predictable process that puts a value on affordable, workforce housing as one of the clear standards by which a development project is reviewed during the land-use process.

We ought to encourage housing inventory that our workers can afford. By the same token, guidelines should not force good projects to be unfeasible or unprofitable. Our resort economy will falter without workers, as surely as our communities suffer whenever a working family, or a young teacher chooses to leave because of the inaccessibility of home ownership.

In resort economies that share our geographical limitations and our attractive investment opportunities, the real estate investment market has failed to produce sufficient housing for the workers required to run those resorts and build second homes. Today, developers simply don’t create enough units that are affordable to the majority of our workforce, and they will not suddenly begin to do so ” unless, as a community, we take decisive action to define our expectations and think of housing as another community infrastructure, like water or roads. Growing workforce housing is an integral component of building the communities we desire. We need to be realistic about this problem, and about achieving solutions.

If you have owned a home for three years or more, ask yourself if you could qualify for a loan on the current value of that same home today?

If you are a renter, ask yourself if you would want to invest in a community that simply increased the supply of beds, or if your desire for home ownership has equally to do with belonging to a livable community near your workplace?

If you are a small business owner, ask yourself if your ability to retain workers affects the viability of your business, or if that pressure has increased in the past five years?

Then ask yourself if government should let go of the steering wheel with respect to housing, and leave it to the market alone to define the quality of life in the places we choose to live?

We live in a uniquely dynamic real estate investment market, not an “average” housing market which can simply sprawl and morph to a new suburb to relieve demand. The county housing guidelines are evolving in such a way that a developer can comprehend the basic outline of expectations (costs) at a very early stage, and design a project accordingly. The housing guidelines must give developers predictability.

We can’t go back to “blank page” negotiations between developers and our elected officials. Too many smart developers will choose not to open their investment to such risk, while others may exploit weaknesses to the detriment of a community, or get unfairly bogged down.

Sure, the current guidelines require even more adjustment. After they are implemented, improvements should continue to be done in real time. For starters, developers, not the county, should decide which of the housing mitigation options by which a submitted project may be judged. If the choices are equally fair, let the applicant choose. Also, I question the housing requirements for commercial development (the calculations for which are extremely complex and questionable), especially the blanket application of these calculations to all uses, many of which are not defined until well after development review. This part of the guidelines needs more expert input, or should be dropped all together as they were in Vail. I have yet to see the addendum of “administrative procedures” which very well may muddy the waters rather than clarifying them.

I do support Eagle County’s implementation of housing guidelines ” certainly not because every detail is final (all policy is a work in progress). I support the guidelines because they are product of a lengthy continuing discussion between the development community and the county staff. That conversation is far from over.

I am a builder. I respect our economy’s close relationship with development. If these guidelines don’t work, then they can and should be adjusted as we move forward. I’ve also been the mayor of Eagle, which has thrived under a 10-percent inclusionary zoning requirement for close to a decade now. We might have been better off with a 20-percent requirement. In any case, I believe in a clearly marked playing field, and playing fair. I also believe that good, conscientious development will continue to find creative solutions within the marketplace given clear parameters, and that growth can improve the quality of our lives, but only if our regulations align with our values.

Jon Stavney is a candidate for Eagle County commissioner. E-mail comments about this column at

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