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Suburbs without a city

Matt Zalaznick
Vail CO, Colorado

Small towns don’t have three ski gondolas. Or cars and SUVs parked for miles and miles on either side of the highway every weekend. Or the second-busiest airport in the state in the winter. Or billions of dollars of new construction and redevelopment.

Small towns don’t want tens of millions of dollars to build a new freeway interchange to keep caravans of tourists out of their roundabouts.

Housing, parking, open space, the availability of child care, school crowding, the water supply, building moratoriums ” and where to put the next Wal-Mart or Target ” aren’t big political issues in truly small, rural, sleepy little mountain towns.

But you hear it all the time around here ” “This is such a small town.” Well, you might recognize people every time you go to the supermarket or the post office, but that can happen in any neighborhood in any big city.

We don’t have big city crime or traffic and there’s nothing wrong with small towns, but clinging to a small-town mindset in a county that’s become its own suburb can be unproductive ” such as holding onto every patch of open space at all costs.

There are parts of the valley more suitable for development. Next to the airport is a perfect place for a Costco and other shops. Who wants to live, have a picnic or try to go for a peaceful hike at the end of a runway?

I’m also thinking of the middle bench in West Vail, Eaton Ranch in Edwards and the Eagle River Station land just outside of Eagle. These are better places for homes and services than the Mount of the Holy Cross trailhead, Sylvan Lake, Battle Mountain or the Flat Tops.

Blind resistance to losing an empty patch of land that’s already surrounded by homes to more apartments, shops or cheaper restaurants only worsens the side effects of a housing market that’s either unaffordable or just plain unavailable.

When people don’t have housing, they have to drive longer distances ” causing traffic, air pollution and cranky commuters ” to get to work. When there’s nowhere affordable to shop, residents have to drive long distances ” causing traffic, air pollution and cranky commuters ” to buy things.

When workers don’t have a place to live, employers have a harder time staffing their businesses with skilled, happy people.

All this can also harm a town’s character. And if our goal is to prevent ourselves from sprawling into the forests and up the mountainsides, we’ve got to pack a few more things into the valley because people are going to keep coming ” to vacation, to live, to retire and to work.

They’re clamoring for that same quality of life we say we cherish and it’s delusional to think many of them can be keep away.

I can’t picture either Vail or Beaver Creek mountain shrinking ” or the ski company trying to make the experience on the slopes less enjoyable. Every other year or so Vail Resorts replaces another slow-speed chairlift with a super-fast quad. The company has plans for new restaurants and slopeside homes.

We can’t continue trying to be one of the world’s top tourist destinations and also be a quiet, little out-of-the-way High Country hamlet.

In fact, there has over the last few years been a push to make it even easier to get here ” whether it’s by monorail or mass transit, a widened I-70 or by the extra 757s that will be able to land at the airport thanks to higher tech radar.

And remember how getting the radar was celebrated as a political victory by all the county commissioners ” at least one of whom is still on the board and talking about slowing growth?

And hey wait a second ” a monorail? In what small town would a majority of the residents vote to test a monorail that they hoped would someday run from their main street to the big city airport more than 100 miles away?

Monorails belong in cities ” or Disney World. Which one are we?

Assistant Managing Editor Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 748-2926, or mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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