Uneasy peace | VailDaily.com

Uneasy peace

Alex Miller
Preston Utley/Vail DailyChristopher Wagers, 8, marks ski runs he has done on a Breckenridge trail map while father Ken looks on. At left, Tina Wagers helps son Justin, 11, mark his map at their second home in Frisco. The Wagers say having a second home allows them to spend more quality time together as a family.

FRISCO ” With its generic name, cookie-cutter houses and duplexes and standard cul-de-sac layout, Mountain Pines subdivision in Frisco exemplifies the typical High Country neighborhood ” with an uneven mix of permanent and part-time residents.

Of the 33 homes in the neighborhood, only about 10 are occupied by full-timers ” very close to the 67 percent norm in Summit County.

In the wintertime, it’s not as obvious who’s here and who’s not, since even the permanent residents don’t bump into each other as much. But in summer, almost everyone is on hand for the annual Fourth of July neighborhood barbecue, and we look around at one another, trying to put the faces with the homes.

My family began renting a duplex here in the summer of 2004. Soon after, the people who owned the adjacent unit – part-timers we’d met only once or twice – sold it at a tremendous profit to a family from Boulder. Built in the early 1990s, Mountain Pines single-family homes were selling for just under $200,000; now, they fetch about $650,000, with the duplexes in the mid 400s.

That’s out of range for most working locals.

“I know we’re part of the problem,” said Ken Wagers, my neighbor. “It’s scary how much it’s gone up even since we bought it almost two years ago.”

Ken, his wife, Tina, and their two boys are the kind of family that’s more typical of the mountain second home-owner than, say, an Arab prince who owns a mega-mansion in Aspen. Boulderites, Ken runs a software company and Tina is a psychology professor at the University of Colorado.

Perhaps more than most, they understand the impact they have as second-home owners and have made more of an effort totalk to locals and understand the community.

“It feels rewarding to meet some people who are here full-time,” Tina Wagers said. “They’re people who have something to say about what’s happening in the community and who are invested in making it a healthy place to live.”

It’s that sense of community that attracted the Wagers to Frisco, which they see as less touristy than Breckenridge or Vail and more full of “real” people.

Even so, as every car driver contributes to the pollution problem no matter how aware of it they are, all second-home owners have a hand in reshaping the resort town economies ” and not always for the best.

“What’s attractive to them is the mingling, egalitarian attitude, but it’s disappearing under the weight of their presence,” said Mick Ireland, Pitkin County commissioner, speaking about what draws people to buy second homes in the mountains.

Even the positive side of the wealthier part-timers, such as hefty contributions to local nonprofits, has a detrimental effect on locals, Ireland said. The cost to get into a fundraiser, for example, keeps going up.

“Charities, instead of getting 20 bucks from a bunch of people, they look for guy who can give $2,500,” he said. “It’s better for the charity, but (locals) don’t have that same sense of belonging. They won’t even send you an invitation, and you don’t matter as much as you once did.”

Ultimately, that kind of reality leads to social stratification, with a widening gulf between the monied part-timers and the locals who serve them, Ireland said. That’s seen everywhere from the lack of affordable housing to the disappearance of community-oriented businesses close to town.

“We have only three gas stations in Aspen,” he said, reflecting a similar situation taking place in Vail, which also now has only three. “A second-home or real estate office is more profitable, so land use gets changed to take advantage of market forces.”

It may sound unbelievable, but Ireland points out that, with the value of real estate, a ski shop would have a hard time opening in downtown Vail or Aspen these days.

“They can’t match the purchasing power of the new industry,” he said. “That kind of service can’t compete with, say, the fractional-ownership office.”

Plenty of the locals I’ve known over the years have said they enjoy the fact that many of their part-time neighbors are rarely to be seen. It certainly cuts down on noise and the potential for friction, but it can make for a lonely neighborhood in the off-season.

“The neighborhood feels empty sometimes,” said Wendy Moore, a retired school principal who lives in the Carbondale golf-course subdivision River Valley Ranch. “But it’s less crowded, which I think is great.”

Moore said many second-home owners are “wealthier than the local schmucks” and tend to import their expectations from whence they came.

“They think there should be a Starbucks on every corner,” she said. “Or they bring political expectations about how towns work and services that towns ought to provide.”

In Carbondale, Moore said there aren’t nearly as many second-home owners as in Summit County, where she and her family lived for many years. But that’s starting to change.

“As Aspen drools down-valley, there could be more problems,” Moore said, adding that the property values in her subdivision continue to climb. But second-home owners are a low-key presence in the area so far.

“They’re not manhandling us yet, not the way Breckenridge has been impacted,” she said. “They’re there, but we don’t notice them as much.”

As Ireland pointed out, the effects of second-home owners aren’t always readily apparent. It’s hard, for example, to blame the lack of gas stations in Vail on that happy guy from Iowa next door, who you see twice a year. I may be envious of my neighbors, who can afford a second home in Frisco when I can’t afford a first, but I don’t blame them personally for it.

Typically, second-home owners are more likely to incur ire from their neighbors when they rent their units out on a short-term basis. In some places, local government has stepped in to reduce that potential friction by disallowing certain uses.

In the Wildridge subdivision of Avon, last summer town council passed an ordinance prohibiting short-term rentals altogether. The reasoning was that the partying tendencies of the vacationers wasn’t a good fit with the desire for a “family culture” in the neighborhood.

In my Frisco subdivision, harmony is achieved largely through the efforts of our rather folksy homeowners’ association. Led by full-time residents Neill Thomas and Gil Smith, it’s a mostly do-it-yourself organization that relies on the help of all the homeowners, full- or part-time.

“Our second-home owners, if they live close, are very active in the homeowners’ association,” Smith said. “We have a pretty good relationship, the full-timers and the second homeowners. That’s not true in every neighborhood.”

In Mountain Pines, full-time residents keep an eye on the second homes when their owners aren’t there. There’s never been a burglary, Smith said, and some big problems have been averted by alert neighbors. Thomas and Smith also take it upon themselves to address any small problems before they grow.

“If something’s wrong, we go over and talk to them about it,” Smith said. “We’ll tell them, ‘you’re screwing up the neighborhood.'”

When it comes to the notion of more and more locals cashing out and selling to second-home owners, though, Smith can only shrug.

“It’s getting impossible for a local to afford these places,” he said. “Maybe we’ll eventually turn into a retirement community.”

Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or amiller@vaildaily.com.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism