What county learned from Miller Ranch
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY ” It may be the American Dream to own a home, but for many in Eagle County just getting out of a small apartment or condo and renting a home would be a milestone.
“I think it would be a dream come true to rent a home in a place like Miller Ranch,” said Avon renter Stephen Refearis. “I want better for my family than a crowded condo, but few in this valley can afford to make their wants a reality.”
As the county continues to hammer out the details of building another Miller Ranch-style community to boost the availability of affordable housing, it is looking at what they could have done better, said KT Gazunis, Eagle County’s housing director.
“Before we do another Miller Ranch-type of project we would like to do a focus group through a research company to talk to the people who live there to see what they like and don’t like,” Gazunis said.
The county will begin buying land in the fall to build more affordable housing, and will then plan what type of housing to build, Gazunis said.
A mix of rental and for sale homes will be a priority, Gazunis said.
But Miller Ranch home owner Aidan Sleming said adding rental units to the new development could cause problems.
“I rented in Lake Creek when they were first built and I feel like no one was invested in the community because there was constant turnover,” Sleming said. “I love, love, love that everyone who lives at Miller Ranch owns their home. They’re more invested in their homes, the community and their neighbors.”
The resale value of homes could go down in a mix rental and ownership community, Sleming said.
“Personally, it would make it less appealing to me as a buyer to buy a home there instead of Miller Ranch if there were rentals included,” said Miller Ranch homeowner Erin Daly. “Renters just don’t take care of their property the way home owners do.”
Though there may be kinks that need to be worked out, the county’s overwhelming need for affordable rental homes needs to be considered, Gazunis said.
“We keep a list of affordable rentals so that when people come in and are looking for one we can refer them to the list, but you have to be pretty darn lucky to get a vacancy,” Gazunis said. The way the market is running, they are full most of the time. And a single-family home is nearly impossible to find.”
Resigning himself to living in a two-bedroom condo with his wife and two children, Refearis said he stopped looking for a house a long time ago.
“Unless I want to spend a fortune in gas driving from way down the valley, I have to live in a condo because there are no homes around here to be had,” Refearis said. “Please, commissioners, consider your citizens who can’t buy a home but still want to build a life here.”
Sleming can understand where Refearis is coming from, he said.
“I remember how hard it can be to rent, and I know the rental market is tight, but I really like the consistency Miller Ranch has with 100 percent ownership,” Sleming said.
If the county were to include rentals in its new affordable housing community, Sleming suggests a homeowners association have tight control over renters as well as the home owners, he said.
No matter who lives in the homes ” renters or the owners themselves ” the people who managed Miller Ranch said the county could take some other things into consideration when they build another community.
“A few owners have commented that the heating is extremely expensive in the winter because it’s electric and others have said they think all the homes should have been built with basements,” said Nick Barbella, who managed Miller Ranch until last month.
They may seem like silly concerns, but a home’s tiny details can have an impact on sales, Barbella said.
The amount and size of the homes’ garages have also been the topic of conversation among home owners, said Kim Williams, current Miller Ranch manager.
“We have heard small concerns about garages, basements and other minor things,” Williams said. “All in all, I think people are pretty happy with their homes. This is a great community where the people have really come together, more than they may in other neighborhoods.”
Daly and Sleming both said they have had problems with some of the construction on their homes.
“Our front porch is sinking because the foundation wasn’t done properly,” Daly said. “The homes were cheaply made and have problems here and there. You can tell it wasn’t the highest quality work.”
What are some of the things owners and county officials wouldn’t change?
The new community will be deed restricted like Miller Ranch, Gazunis said.
Homeowners can only make a certain percentage of profit when they sell their home to ensure it sells for an affordable price, she said.
“At first I was nervous about buying a deed restricted home,” Sleming said. “Now I appreciate it because it gives me security and makes it so my wife, Renia, and I can actually afford to live there. Sure, I could make more selling a home on the open market, but then again I couldn’t afford to buy the home in the first place.”
The accessibility to mass transportation and a central location in the valley are also high priorities for the county in planning a new development, Gazunis said.
“I just love everything about the community on a whole,” Daly said. “The best thing about it is the location and the way it has paths and a park-like setting. There’s no place else like it around here.”
Staff writer Alison Miller can be reached at 748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.