Vail residents want the town to focus on housing first

Residents, second-homeowners identify priorities, concerns in biennial survey

Results are in from Vail's 2024 Community Survey with respondents sharing what they like, don't like and want from the town services, programs and priorities.
Ali Longwell/Vail Daily archive

At the end of the day, whether discussing the budget, capital projects or strategic plans, the Vail Town Council is elected by Vail voters to represent their best interest in each decision it makes. So, in addition to public comment, the town relies on a variety of polls and surveys to understand what it is their constituents want and need.

The biennial Vail Community Survey represents one of its biggest initiatives to collect this information. The 60-question survey asks residents about their satisfaction with town programs and services as well as what their future needs and priorities are.

It also gives the town a way to understand community demand around ideas for new initiatives. For example, this year, a few questions sought to understand whether Vail residents would support a car share program — something the council has gone back and forth on.

On Tuesday, July 2, the Vail Town Council received an overview of the 2024 results, with the full report expected to be posted on the town’s website in the future. This full report will include all responses to the multiple-choice and open-ended questions.

“It’s a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of what your residents are thinking. I think by and large, we have good news today for y’all, (but) it’s always a bit of a mixed bag,” said Sean Maher with RRC Associates, which has consulted on the survey since 2010.

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Who responded to the survey

The survey began at the end of March and ran through mid-May. The town had 945 total respondents. There were 358 responses from an “open version” of the survey, which was sent to wider community members including employees and business owners who live outside of town.

However, the data shared on Tuesday was based on 587 responses from Vail residents. The largest percentage of respondents (24%) was between the ages of 65 and 74, with 23% falling between 55 and 64. Participation slowly declined with age, with 15% between 45 and 54, 14% between 35 and 44 and 12% between 25 and 34. Ten percent of respondents were over the age of 75.

The majority of respondents (52%) have lived or owned property in Vail for more than 15 years — 65% of which were over 45 years old.

Twenty-three percent reported living or owning in Vail for between six and 15 years — with 34% of these respondents under 45 years old. Nineteen percent reported having between one and five years in Vail with 38% of these under 45.

The vast majority of respondents (77%) indicated that they own their residence in Vail, with 21% reporting as renters. Individuals over 45 years of age represented 91% of those who own, while 60% of renters were under 45 years old.

The survey also asked where respondents lived, with the largest percentage living in East Vail (26%), followed by West Vail north of Interstate-70 (21%). The next highest percentage reported was in the Potato Patch/Sandstone neighborhood with 9%. Intermountain, Matterhorn/Glen Lyon and Vail Village each represented 7% of respondents.   

What’s going well and what’s not

One of the first questions asked is whether respondents feel that the Town Council is moving in the right direction or if they’ve gotten on the wrong track. Maher referred to this as “one of the most important questions we ask.”

At a high level, the percentage of individuals who feel the town is going in the right direction has increased from the last survey administration in 2022, but is still down from support pre-COVID, Maher noted.

While most people (48%) of respondents reported that they felt the Town Council was on the right track, 32% of respondents felt they were on the wrong track. Twenty percent reported that they didn’t have an opinion.

When broken down by age, the largest percentage of individuals who felt they were going in the wrong direction were those between 25 and 44 years old. Individuals 65 and older had a much higher response rate for “right direction.”

Individuals between 55 and 64 had the highest level of indifference, with similar percentages of this age group falling into each response. 

“Not surprisingly” seasonal residents and second homeowners are “much more positive on the direction of the town,” compared to year-round residents, Maher said.

At a high level, survey respondents reported high levels of satisfaction with various town departments and services including public works (cleanliness and maintenance of public facilities), fire and police, as well as the bus service.

The town of Vail bus service had some of the highest satisfaction ratings. With extremely high levels of “very satisfied” reports for frequency, dependability, cleanliness, atmosphere and bus drivers. On the whole, the bus service “hit it out of the park,” Maher said. The library also had very high satisfaction ratings.

The lowest satisfaction ratings came from the town’s parking services, which Maher said is common in most communities. While the majority were satisfied with the ease of parking in the summer and parking structure cleanliness, dissatisfaction was higher with parking fees and pricing structures. Most respondents (53%) reported that parking rates should be on demand.

Still, Maher said these ratings were “surprisingly strong and actually better than it did two years ago.”

“Pretty much all of your ratings went up from 2022. The only one that dropped was fees and pricing,” he added.

The dissatisfaction with the price of parking coincides with the town raising its parking rates during the 2022-23 winter season. In comparison to the last survey administration in the spring of 2022, the percentage of respondents dissatisfied with parking fees and the pricing structure increased from 29% in 2022 to 43% in 2024.

This year also saw a slight decline — from 33% in 2022 to 18% in 2024 — in the number of respondents “not at all satisfied” with overflow frontage road parking convenience and ease of access. Similarly, the percentage of respondents not satisfied with the safety of the overflow parking dropped from 34% in 2022 to 21% in 2024.

A screenshot of a presentation made by RRC Associates to the Vail Town Council on Tuesday, July 2. This chart shows the overall priorities selected by respondents to the 2024 Vail Community Survey.
Courtesy Photo

Do the community and council priorities align?

The community survey represents a unique opportunity for the Vail Town Council to ensure its priorities align with the community.

This winter and spring, the Vail Town Council underwent a strategic planning process — hiring a contractor to help conduct council member interviews, community, focus groups and planning sessions — to help drive its future work. From this process, the Town Council identified five priority issues:

  • Create a strong community and create affordable housing opportunities
  • Support our workforce
  • Provide an authentic Vail experience
  • Transportation
  • Environmental sustainability

In the community survey, respondents were also asked to rank their top priorities from a list provided. Overall, the top five ranked priorities in the survey were:

  • Creating a continuum of housing for locals, ranging from seasonal employees to retirees
  • Protecting wildlife habitat and restoring habitat connectivity
  • Improving the health of the Gore Creek Watershed
  • Increasing access to child care for those who work in Vail, where workers want it
  • Creating and enhancing annual events that are consistent with Vail’s unique vibes (ex: GoPro Mountain Games, Bravo!)

On Tuesday, these priorities were also split by age groups, with individuals above and below 45 identifying slightly different needs and desires.

All age groups identified the “continuum of housing” as the top priority, with a slightly higher percentage of individuals under 40 identifying it as their No. 1 (74% compared to 60%).

However, for those under 45, access to child care and mental health viability came in as their second and third priorities. On the other hand, it was those older than 45 who identified environmental issues as their second and third priorities — namely, protecting wildfire habitat and improving the Gore Creek Watershed.

For those under 40, these environmental issues also ranked high in priorities (fourth and fifth highest, respectively). However, for those over 40, mental health ranked much lower in priority (with only 11% identifying it as a top three priority at all). Child care ranked higher as a priority, but it still fell behind in creating events and a welcoming environment for this older age group.

While Town Manager Russ Forrest said he saw a “pretty high level of alignment” between the survey and the strategic plan, he added that the plan can always be “nimble.”

The plan, is “intended to provide some long-term direction in terms of investment but we can always adjust and change priorities,” Forrest added.

How should Vail address the housing crisis?

A screenshot of a presentation made by RRC Associates to the Vail Town Council on Tuesday, July 2. With housing ranking as the No. 1 priority the Vail community wants addressed, there was varying support for different ideas to face the crisis.
Courtesy Photo

With housing identified as the top priority for both the Town Council and the community, the survey went deeper into what housing opportunities and levers the community would support. Among all housing opportunities presented, the priorities were fairly similar based on age and based on whether they rent or own.

“My guess — and we can do this if you’d like to see it — is that if we look at under 35 and over 65, we’d probably see a bigger variance,” Maher said.

One question asked respondents to rank their support for a variety of housing initiatives and opportunities. The one with the most support was Vail exploring downvalley partnerships on housing with 77% indicating some level of support.

Subsequently, the acquisition of land for future resident-occupied housing and then amending deed restrictions to grant preference for businesses within the town boundaries saw the second and third highest levels of support. However, a larger percentage (21% compared to 13%) indicated neutral support for the latter opportunity.  

In the same question, an equal amount of respondents indicated strong support for Vail to increase the amount paid to purchase deed restrictions through Vail InDEED on a wider range of home types as did for allowing increases in density to facilitate the development of accessory dwelling units for resident occupied housing. Thirty-seven percent indicated strong support for both.

As the survey allows Vail to gather some community sentiment about policy directives it takes, the survey asked whether the loss of long-term housing was seen as a problem. This comes as the town considers whether it should add more regulations — and what problem these regulations would target.

Overall, 40% of respondents said the loss of long-term housing was a “critical problem of the region,” with 21% reporting it as “one of the more serious problems” and 21% as a “moderate problem.”

It’s something that, perhaps unsurprisingly ranked much higher as a critical problem for renters and non-owners. Sixty-five percent of renters and non-owners ranked it as a critical issue compared to owners, of which only 35% said it was a critical problem.

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