Where on Earth will we put them all?
EAGLE – In the next few years, we’ll have a big bunch of new friends to meet.The state demographer’s office is projecting that 88,000 people will live here by 2030. And, no, that 88,000 figure does not include the 30,000 or so who will commute into the county each day to work from either Lake County or points west as those workers search for housing they can afford.Where on God’s green earth will we put them all?Cliff Simonton with Eagle County’s long-range planning department thinks about this sort of stuff all the time.”It’s an exciting time to be here. We have opportunities to tackle these problems in the creative way,” Simonton said.Basically, the state demographer’s numbers are based on a complex equation that involves the county’s economic base and job projection.Once they have the number of projections in place, they fill those slots with people – all looking for a place to live they can afford.
That search begins at top of Glenwood Canyon and goes all the way to the Colorado/Utah state line. As oil and gas development increases in Garfield County, where many workers in Eagle and Pitkin counties actually live, those workers will be uncomplicating their lives by taking better-paying jobs closer to home.”If can find a good job where you live, combined with gas prices, you’ll likely choose to cut down or eliminate a long commute,” Simonton said.Glenwood Springs has recently left the affordability and Rifle’s on the cusp, Simonton said. Those workers may end up in Battlement Mesa, or even further out.Housing prices in Garfield County are rising, especially in the western half of that county, in part because of the boom in natural gas development from Silt to Parachute.Garfield County Planner Randy Russell said some houses in Rifle are selling by word of mouth before even being listed for sale.In Eagle County the pressing question remains: “How do we move into the future, looking for our employee base that may or may not be adequate to provide the quality of experience our guests have come to expect?'” asked Simonton.Simonton sees self-sufficiency being attained by creating a long-term, affordable housing stock, which will require some public/private partnerships.”Our experience has been that the free market does not provide that,” Simonton said.
Garfield County’s population is expected to grow 150 percent to 130,000 people by 2030. Garfield’s population is about 50,000 now.”We’re trying to figure out where all these new people are going to park,” said Garfield County Planner Randy Russell.The state also previously had forecast Garfield County would reach 148,000 total residents by 2030.Russell said last year’s population projections were based in part on the assumption that there would be pent-up demand for new housing in the region as the country came out of the recession. But he said it’s now looking as if the growth in places such as Eagle County will be a little more moderate.Price increases in western Garfield County could do more than just slow growth. They also could further reduce the affordable housing role Garfield County has played.”We’ve been the regional affordable housing bank for the whole area and I think it’s safe to say that that’s drying up now,” he said.As wealthy, retired baby boomers continue to move to the county, Russell worries where the middle-class work force will live.”The boomers are coming our way. I think we’re only seeing the leading edge of that,” he said.Russell said no one is building rental properties, and some communities don’t want them. That raises the specter of more homes being built outside incorporated towns and cities to meet the demand of a growing population.”How much of that new growth do you really want in unincorporated Garfield County?” Russell asked.Contact Randy Wyrick at 748-2977 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Dennis Webb of the Glenwood Springs Post/Independent contributed to this report.Vail, Colorado