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Avon Elementary back to normal after gas leak

Wednesday morning’s gas leak at Avon Elementary School has been resolved and the facility certified safe and gas-free by the fire department. Students and staff have returned to classrooms and their normal day.

A gas leak was detected this morning during late start before students arrived. Students were directed to the Avon Recreation Center to begin the day with their teachers and returned to school as soon as the building was cleared by the fire department.

For parents, if you kept your students home during the incident, it is now safe for them to come to school.

La fuga de gas en la Primaria Avon esta mañana fue corregida y las instalaciones certificadas como seguras y sin fuga de gas por el Departamento de Bomberos. Los estudiantes y personal han regresado a su día normal. 

Si usted se quedó con sus estudiantes en casa durante el incidente, ahora es seguro para que ellos vengan a la escuela. 

Eagle County Commissioners approve workforce housing project in EagleVail

EAGLE — In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Eagle County Board of Commissioners approved Bob Warner’s plan to renovate his 42-year-old EagleVail office building into a shared living facility.

Following a public hearing that stretched to nearly 4 1/2 hours and included comments from several EagleVail neighbors strongly opposed to the proposal, the commissioners ruled that the project met the county’s standards for approval and presented a unique workforce housing option for the valley.

Warner’s plan calls for developing the shared living space within the existing 10,000-square-foot commercial building, which will be remodeled but not expanded in size, except for entry staircases on either side of the building.

The Warner Workforce Housing proposal calls for 30 single-occupancy rooms and five double-occupancy rooms within the existing building. Each unit would be equipped with a microwave, sink, refrigerator and closet. Bathrooms on each floor would be shared, each serving approximately 2.3 rooms.

A community room with kitchen facilities and an on-site manager unit would be located on the west side of the middle-level floor. There would be a maximum of 42 occupants on-site, no pets allowed and short-term leasing or subleasing would be prohibited.

“I have been involved in EagleVail since its inception,” said Warner as he introduced his proposal to the county commissioners. He said his renovation plan represented a sensible way to utilize the aging office building and the project itself balanced the needs of the neighborhood with the needs of future residents.

“Times have changed and the way people live and work has changed. I think this application before you is evidence of that,” Warner said.

Warner said it has always been tough to find housing in Eagle County and recalled his own struggles when he arrived here 52 years ago.

“But times were different then. Affordable housing was still hard to come by, but not like today’s standards,” Warner said. “And when I came here, I don’t remember people not wanting housing for me, and people like me, in their neighborhoods.”

‘Viable’ housing

Planner Rick Pylman noted that Warner Professional Building 2 is actually older than the planning guidelines for EagleVail. The building dates back to 1976. The guidelines were adopted in 1979.

“It is a commercially zoned property, but there was no commitment from anyone that it would remain as an office building forever,” said Pylman.

He argued that “boarding house” is one of the designated special uses allowed in EagleVail commercial areas.

“This use has really become popular again,” said Pylman. “It seems to be both economically and social viable employee housing.”

The individual rooms will be small, acknowledged architect Bob Ladd. The rooms range in size from approximately 170 square feet to approximately 120 square feet.

“They are self-contained for someone to survive and really take care of themselves in that space,” Ladd said.

Community character

Current residents of EagleVail voiced several concerns with the Warner Workforce Housing proposal. They cited inadequate outreach on the part of the development team and stated the project didn’t meet the family neighborhood character of EagleVail.

“I have canvassed other members of the community and asked the question ‘Did anyone reach out to you about this?'” said EagleVail resident Hazel Kreuz.

Kreuz said not one single person answered “yes.”

“I believe in good projects. I think the best projects happen when both entities have time to work out the issues,” Kreuz said. “I believe there is more work to be done here.”

Cindy Krieg argued the location and density of Warner’s project are not compatible with the existing family neighborhood. She also said it is unfair to characterize EagleVail residents as NIMBYs.

“Those of us who have submitted comments and attended the meetings are part of the Eagle County workforce,” she said.

“There is no disagreement that employee housing is needed in the county, but you should plan for it. You shouldn’t try to shoehorn it in,” said EagleVail Property Owners Association attorney Wendell Porterfield.

“If I lived in Wolcott, I would think this is a sensible thing because it wouldn’t have a fire escape in my back yard,” said resident Brad Kreuz. “If we are going to change something that is so close to all the existing homes, it really bothers me we aren’t going to tell those people about it.”

Transient concerns

In response to the resident comments, development team members said they had hosted an informational meeting. Additionally, they noted that the county received 176 pages of public comment about the plan which demonstrated that people were aware of the proposal.

Eagle County Sustainable Communities Director Adam Palmer, who wrote the staff findings about the Warner application, noted that a number of the letters the county received highlighted concerns about the character of the project tenants and the transient nature of the occupants.

“I don’t believe these are people to be afraid of. The target market describes many of us as we came here,” Palmer said.

The project housing plan calls for rental rate caps of 70% area median income for an individual household — $1,152 per month — for the 30 single occupancy rooms and rental caps at 100% of the area median income — $1,645 per month — for the five double-occupancy rooms. Warner’s attorney Sarah Baker said those caps represent the highest rental amounts that could be charged, not the actual planned rental fees.

Baker also countered the argument that the project would introduce a transient population to EagleVail. Baker said there are currently 132 VRBO listings and 119 AirBNB listings in the neighborhood, which she said suggests there is already a substantial transient population in EagleVail.

‘A place to land’

In their deliberations, the Eagle County commissioners noted their job was to apply the appropriate land use standards in making a decision. “In America, we have property rights,” said Commissioner Matt Scherr.

All three commissioners agreed with the staff findings and the decision by the Eagle County Planning Commission that the application met the county standards. They also granted a parking variance — allowing 35 spaces for the building rather than the 37 spaces required by code. The commissioners noted the building is located very close to ECO Transit stops and within walking distance of community amenities.

“EagleVail is a place where people land when they come here,” said Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. “This does make a small dent in our affordable housing need.”

With the approval secured, Warner said he plans to begin work on the renovation and hopes to have rental units available at the site as soon as next spring.

Kaiser Permanente leaving Eagle, Summit counties

VAIL – Colorado’s High Country will have one less health insurance and healthcare option by the end of the year.

Kaiser Permanente Colorado is pulling out of Eagle and Summit counties, the health care provider confirmed Thursday afternoon.

Kaiser partially blamed hospitals in Eagle and Summit counties, saying they have been “unreasonably opposed to contracting with us,” a marked shift from the 10-year commitment Kaiser made four years ago when it said those contracts might not matter. Kaiser also pointed fingers at Front Range hospitals for its troubles there. The Colorado Hospital Association countered that Kaiser is responsible for its own problems.

“Kaiser Permanente Colorado began serving the mountain communities nearly four years ago with the goal of increasing access to high-quality, affordable health care,” Amy L. Whited, director of communications, community health and engagement for Kaiser Permanente Colorado said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we have been a very small player in a challenging market, and hospitals in the community have been unreasonably opposed to contracting with us.”

The local hospitals are St. Anthony’s Summit Medical Center in Frisco and Vail Health Hospital.

“We were surprised to hear the news,” said Michael Holton with Vail Health. “Our goal is to provide the highest quality of care close to home.”

Without hospital contracts, Kaiser has not been able to secure a “sustainable level of membership,” Whited said.

Kaiser serves approximately 4,400 members in Summit and Eagle counties, less than 5 percent of the Eagle/Summit County market and less than 1 percent of Kaiser’s total membership in Colorado, Whited said.

“We are committed to minimizing the disruption for our members and assisting with the transition of their care and coverage,” Whited said.

’10-year proposition’

Ironically, Brent Bowman, Kaiser’s executive director for regional strategy said four years ago when the company entered opened in Eagle and Summit counties that, while not having a hospital contract would be a challenge, Kaiser was in it for the long haul.

“We have to commit to a 10-year proposition,” Bowman said at the time.

Kaiser’s four-year foray into Colorado’s resort region ends when it closes the Edwards and Frisco offices on Dec. 27.

Kaiser’s troubles are not limited to the High Country. Colorado’s largest health insurer laid off  400 people over the past eight months.

Kaiser’s High Country conundrum

Part of Kaiser’s High Country conundrum is competition or the lack of it, explained Bethe Wright of the Wright Insurance Co.

In Denver, and along Colorado’s more densely populated Front Range, health insurance providers can negotiate with hospitals and doctors for discounts as high as 50% on some procedures. In the High Country, that discount rarely tops 10 percent, numbers that are readily available from a patient’s billing statement, Wright said.

Besides opening medical clinics in Edwards and Frisco, Kaiser was among the first to offer online access to doctors. Kaiser had even offered to transport patients to Denver for medical procedures at a Kaiser facility, put them in a hotel and bring them home – if it was less expensive than the procedure would cost locally, a business method Kaiser has used successfully in other places.

And the good news is …

The good news is that this year’s state legislation might provide some relief in 2020.

The Vail Symposium and Vail Valley Partnership co-hosted a Vail Valley Business Forum on Thursday morning, “Healing What Ails Us … Affordable Healthcare In Our Community.” In the hour-and-a-half forum, healthcare executives and elected officials discussed how the private and public sectors are tackling the issue of skyrocketing healthcare and health insurance costs.

In Summit County, the Peak Health Alliance is scheduled to roll out next year and could mean health insurance rates drop by 20%.

Vail Health CEO Will Cook said the hospital and other Eagle County entities are working to roll out some solutions in 2021.

In the meantime the Vail Valley Partnership rolled out its One Valley Healthcare Program late last year. It’s not insurance, but covers preventive care and other options for employers, employees and sole-proprietors who are VVP members.

Kaiser’s departure leaves Anthem/Blue Cross as the only individual health insurance carrier left in Eagle County, while Summit also has Bright Health in addition to Anthem.

VCHS alum named Fulbright Scholar

EDWARDS — A Vail Valley native is the first from his university to win a Fulbright Scholarship to Switzerland.

Cooper Gould, a 2015 graduate of Vail Christian High School, will study with Professor François Avellan in his Laboratory for Hydraulic Machines at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL).

Gould is studying mechanical engineering and mathematics from Texas Christian University. After completing his Fulbright, Cooper plans to head back to the U.S. to earn a master’s degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado. He interned at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In addition to working with EPFL, Cooper will spend time in Switzerland working with Fondation Hirondelle. Based in Lausanne, the nonprofit provides information to populations faced with crisis.

The Fulbright program is an international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government.

Among the 380,000 Fulbright scholars are 59 Nobel Laureates, 82 Pulitzer Prize winners, 71 MacArthur Fellows, 16 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients and thousands of leaders across the private, public and non-profit sectors.