Vail Valley Partnership: How do we address issues that are ‘killing’ our mountain towns? (column)
Last week in this space, we explored a recent Outside magazine article that explored the hypothesis that short-term rentals are “killing” mountain towns, and our hypothesis that if our mountain towns are dying, it is not due to short-term rentals, but rather due to the transient nature of our resort communities.
Many factors contribute to the transient nature of our communities. In resort-oriented communities — and in small towns across the country — there are a limited number of opportunities for job growth. There are only so many bank presidents, marketing executives, finance directors, hospital managers, etc. Career growth is inherently limited in this type of environment and contributes to the transient nature of our community.
How do we address this and, in turn, reduce the negative impacts of a transient population? A necessary step is to address our housing and transit challenges.
Eagle County faces a gap in the availability of ownership and rental housing that is affordable for residents. According to our annual workforce survey, employers and employees both believe that the availability of workforce housing is a critical and major problem in Eagle County. The Eagle County Housing Assessment shows a shortfall of 4,500 units to meet current needs.
Workforce and affordable housing has long been an issue in Eagle County. Addressing our affordable-housing issue is essential to the continued success and growth of our community and our businesses across industry sectors and can have the added benefit of reducing the transient nature of this special place.
How do we reduce the transient nature of our community, through increased local housing inventory and improved transit? In other words, what does the Eagle County of 2027, 2037 or 2047 look like?
In my mind, we would increase density with more in-fill housing and provide better transit options. We would be much more affordable for locals through thoughtful, meaningful deed restrictions, as well as regulatory and zoning improvements. We would be an integrated, diverse community by retaining our mid-career workforce.
If we don’t make that happen, then Eagle County runs the risk of becoming a mountain version of San Francisco or Monaco. Eagle County is on its way to becoming an exclusionary, unaffordable region if these issues are not addressed in a meaningful way. This is the threat that has the potential to “kill” the mountain town, and we need to address it.
How? First, every locality has zoning rules, as well as a general plan with a housing element that says, “Here’s our plan to allow so much housing of a certain density.” If and when someone then presents a proposal to develop housing in accordance with those rules and that plan, then the local government should have to say, “yes” to it. They shouldn’t say “no” and nit-pick projects that follow all their own rules, which unfortunately happens all the time.
Beyond that, the local rules are often too restrictive. We need to embrace density and in-fill and reduce parking requirements and other “public good” to incentivize housing for locals. Housing alone should be the public benefit for these projects. How crazy is that our policies add costs to developers that ultimately increase the cost of housing for locals?
The opportunity exists to mitigate the impending “death” of mountain towns. Our “death” is not caused by short-term rentals; it will be mitigated by creating an environment that reduces the transient nature of the community through increased access to housing, improved transit and a better regulatory environment.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.
Paul Cuthbertson, a lifelong local of Eagle and Summit counties, died while skiing up to the Polar Star Inn to meet some friends for a celebration of his 21st birthday on Friday night.