Vail Daily column: Avon’s ‘facts’ keep shifting | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Avon’s ‘facts’ keep shifting

Don Rogers
My View
Don Rogers
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

The town of Avon’s “Fact Sheet” about the Skier Building referendum this month has changed. Facts asserted before were not in fact, facts.

You have to wonder. If town leaders have this much trouble with a “fact sheet,” how thorough have they been with, in lawyer’s parlance, the true facts of their bid to buy the Skier Building?

The “Fact Sheet” in fact is misnamed. It’s not a fact sheet — an objective, authoritative listing of facts and empirical truths. It’s the town’s best argument of the moment. Propaganda.

Exhibit A is a statement about the town declaring that it feels a moral commitment to spend $6 million to upgrade Town Hall to current code, and generally to follow the same rules everyone else must follow.

It’s also a rather large retreat from earlier statements in the “Fact Sheet” and elsewhere that the town would be “required” to renovate up to current code.

That’s because the earlier statements were not true. That is to say the “Fact Sheet” did not have this “fact” correct.

Knowledgeable observers — one whose business includes renovating buildings — recently pointed out this error, among others, to town officials.

But let’s hold onto the laudable sentiment that the town believes it should live up to the rules it sets for others.

How do town leaders explain, then, the parking situation? Only the town could even buy the Skier Building without its parking. Conveniently, the town owns land next door used for parking.

Do you really think the town would let another buyer of the Skier Building violate a zoning ordinance? Of course not. They’ll just change the rules for others to make it work for them. Simple.

If the town indeed buys the Skier Building, only 10 percent of the space by law could go to private uses such as retail. The rule for everyone else was the whole first floor had to be retail. Well, they’ll just change that rule, too. Done.

The town’s “facts” and arguments are taking on the plasticity of a teenager making his best case on the fly as he keeps talking, never mind the, ahem, true facts. The gymnastics in logic here look like nothing so much as a game of Twister gone maybe a bit long.

Avon Town Hall is far from ideal. The layout is problematic. The heating and cooling system needs upgrading. The roof needs to be replaced at some point. The cops’ quarters are cramped. The location by the lake might be better used another way.

I think those all are valid arguments for looking at other options for a new town hall.

This is a good time to start a discussion with the public about finding better quarters. Instead, Avon was awfully quiet about the subject until they sprung this on the public in the closing process for the Skier Building. They’ve been scrambling ever since to justify themselves.

There would be no referendum otherwise. And make no mistake, this isn’t simply about the details of how the purchase would be financed, another fiction asserted by town officials. They are well aware that the language of the ballot is the only legal means of having a referendum to show the council what voters think of buying the Skier Building and turning it into a new town hall.

Had town leaders been more open and engaged the public, I think it likely they would find better alternatives than overspending on a building shell that has sat empty for 11 years.

Calling the owner’s obviously rich appraisal of the building’s worth “objective” just makes the point. Incidentally, that “appraisal” in fact was just a statement of what the owner believes someone would pay to re-create the building, skier’s statue, developer’s profit and presumably the kitchen sink, too.

To anyone but the town itself, the building is pretty much worthless without its parking.

Maybe you are buying the town’s Brooklyn Bridge here. That’s fine. Just tell me why no one has purchased or leased this building in the 11 years since it was built if it’s really so great as town leaders insist.

The fact is the existing Town Hall is not great, either. But neither should it cost $6 million to upgrade. A staff report for the council in September put renovation costs between $2 million and $2.5 million. At some point that estimate inflated like a bandstand into a pavilion.

I’ll note the Town Hall’s location had been fine since Avon’s inception. No disasters have ensued, and no citizens complained all these decades.

In fact, the town doesn’t have to rush. The Skier Building will remain an option for years to come if the voters are wise enough to vote “no” in the mail-in referendum this month and the new Town Council can exercise enough prudence to rescind the purchase. No one else would even dream of buying that place for $3.2 million without its parking.

The bigger issue comes back to facts, as expressed in the town’s elastic “Fact Sheet.” It’s swiftly reaching the point you’d think they’d declare the sun rose in the west if they thought it would help their argument.

The real cost here is trust. That’s the inevitable consequence of expressing “facts” that turn out not to be true.

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com and 970-748-2920.

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