Vail Daily letter: Processes matter
February 12, 2017
I've lived in Vail for 29 years and have seen a lot of subject-specific issues come and go, under numerous councils. For me, the details of the subjects eventually erode with time, but the thing that stays in mind are a couple of process issues as they continue to repeat again and again. If I followed the details of other municipal governments, I might observe similar findings.
The process issues I see repeating are:
• 11th hour debates: It's either because information is not shared until things are set in stone or folks don't pay attention until its crunch time. I tend to think it's more of the former.
• Goal-driven decisions: It would seem each issue should have a clearly identifiable set of goals before getting into the nitty-gritty of a subject — where it's easy to lose sight of how you got there. Some would say this is usually a problem with development projects, where the proponent comes up with the idea, forcing the town to reverse-engineer a set of goals. Perhaps, but we even saw the most basic questions of goals — well past the 11th hour — with the Chamonix project, where the town was the originating proponent.
In some cases the issues cited above only caused ruffled feathers and some extra time, but in others, the final outcome was affected. I see both process issues in the proposed Marriott complex — a hotel and a 96-unit workforce housing section, side by side:
• Our "11th Hour Brigade": Opponents citing functionality as too dense visually too monolithic, urban and long; blocked views; 50 dogs being walked on an adjacent neighborhood road without sidewalks; etc. vs. supporters citing the need for all the workforce housing we can get; an unique opportunity, mid-priced hotel, etc.
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• Comprehensive goals?: In Vail there has always been a dual, joined at the hip, goal of having workers live where they work and having children brought up in a nice place, as part of a real residential community. Yet, at the showdown meeting to move ahead, there were discussions of just about everything except children, none. Here the primary issue is the location the workforce housing part of the complex … not next to the bus stop and two adjacent condominiums as year round neighbors, but isolated from the neighborhood by the hotel part — with all its transient comings and goings. Based on comments at the Feb. 7 council meeting, it was not clear if the developer indicated why they laid it out that way. Further, it is not clear any real thought or written goals addressed the issue of "livability" in a dense complex — with or without children.
So how does a municipal government — with all the pressures of subject-specific issues — put process problems high enough on the priority list to recognize and then deal with the problems? Clearly the public must be involved to help solve the problems, in what would likely be off-site retreats, hopefully professionally facilitated to stay focused and ensure even the shy one's views to be drawn out.
As to the Marriott project, it's unlikely any major change will occur as the council has voted 5-2 to move forward with what the developer is offering. But who knows — if the public had been involved earlier and goals were written down — might we have seen more out-of- the-box ideas and a very different product? Perhaps something that is proudly iconic and with happier hotel guests, locals in the workforce units, neighbors, the citizenry as a whole, the developer, coupled with, yes, the council! Again, it's all about process.
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