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Vail housing crunch at crisis point

Kaye Ferry

I’ve spent two columns so far this month on housing. The prompt was the town of Vail Housing Stategy White Paper, which pretty clearly outlines the severe crunch we are about to experience for our employees.The inventory is dwindling as units previously used for employees are being scarfed up by a new surge of out-of-area consumers. With escalating prices, locals cannot compete as buyers. Additionally, properties are being removed from the rental pools, leaving a smaller and smaller supply available to the local work force.Thankfully, Middle Creek came on line just in the nick of time and provided 275 beds. But that’s not enough. Job growth in Vail, Minturn, Avon, Edwards and all the way to Gypsum is expected to reach record highs with approximately 12,000 new jobs created in the next 10 years. Keep in mind that, according to the 2000 census, 4,185 employees commute from elsewhere in Eagle County alone to work in Vail.Being isolated at one end of the county, the future effects of the job explosion could be disasterous for Vail as we compete for employees. Speculation is that employees will have very little incentive to travel any distance to work with a plethora of job opportunities available closer to their residences. And even if they were so motivated, other problems would be tangentially created. For example, parking, which is already the No. 1 rated problem in Vail, would be further exacerbated by an increase in employee flow upvalley. And to back up, traffic itself would be impacted as more employees take to the road.When you look at all of the issues related to “importing” our work force from out of town, it becomes abundantly clear that there has to be a better way. And for those who know me, you know what my answer will be. We simply must find a way to provide affordable housing options for our employees within the town of Vail limits. If we don’t, we will not be able to compete either within the valley or with other resorts. And I’m not convinced that even enforcing our unofficial 30 percent policy will give us enough of an advantage.So how do we accomplish this? As one option, the town has helped locals through a downpayment assistance program. This has allowed employees get a start in the pursuit of the American dream. Deed restrictions have been placed on many units as a way to permanently cap appreciation on units in a period of spiraling real estate prices. This has been the choice given to many developers trying to meet the housing requirements placed on them during the development agreement process. And while these all add up to protect both for sale and rental units, it’s not enough today and certainly won’t be enough tomorrow.So what are some of these other choices? I’ll give you a brief outline and next week we’ll look at them in detail.

The town of Vail currently uses several stategies to increase its housing inventory. Commercial linkage is one that’s used for large commercial properties that go through the Special Development District, Public Accomodation Zone district and the LionsHead Master Plan processes. Then there are zoning incentives, which allow extra square footage on residences if they dedicate the space to an employee housing unit. The town has also leased land for the development of deed-restricted employee housing units as well as having purchased existing housing stock units and preserved them for employees.Where the arguments will get heated is with the consideratiion of other alternatives, many of which have proven to be very successful in other communities. Commercial linkage is one that’s currently being used in Vail but with too small a percentage requirement. An increase at least deserves a discussion. And residential linkage is another that will raise blood pressures but must be considered.Inclusionary zoning, impact fees, revised buy-down and downpayment assistance programs as well as an increase in town-owned or controlled projects are other areas which we’ll look at in more detail next week.As a start, the town authorized the expenditure of funds for a rational nexus study by RRC to allow the town to codify some of it current policies.

Now, an update. Crossroads’ final appeal date is May 30. If no challenges to the petition come forth by then, the procession (it’s really more like a slow but deliberate march) towards an election will have moved forward another step. Next will be a review by town council June 6. They will have the opportunity to rescind the ordinance they approved last March which gave Crossroads (aka Solaris) the green light. While the original decision required a simple majority to win, a two-thirds majority is necessary to overturn that decision, something that seems very unlikely knowing the original vote and the shift in balance on the council at the last election.Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the public vote on this issue is scheduled for July 11. Anyone wishing to vote in this special election must be registered by June 10.As I said previously, this debate should add some serious fireworks to the 4th of July in Vail. Because while tensions have been obvious so far, my guess is you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.Do your part- call them and write them.

To contact the TC call 479-1860 X 8 or email towncouncil@vailgov.comTo contact Vail Resorts call 476-5601 or email vailinfo@vailresorts.comFor past columns, vaildaily.com- columnists or search:ferry Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.


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