Mountain News 

Enough studies, panel tells Vail

By Allen Best

VAIL, Colo. – A panel from the Urban Land Institute that visited Vail and the Eagle Valley in early December told the locals that it’s time to get busy with affordable housing and quit studying it.

“If you go into Google and look up Eagle County, there’s study after study after study,” said the panel’s spokesman, Tony Salazar, a principal in a Los Angeles-based development company. “Enough, already. We want this to be your last study.”

The panel recommended that Eagle County create a countywide housing authority that will have the ability to sign contracts with developers, and perhaps, collect taxes.

“If you don’t have the political will to act, you’ll be the county equivalent to a Third World country,” Salazar said. The group estimates that the Eagle Valley, where Vail is located, will need 8,400 new rental and for-sale homes in the next decade.

This report comes on the heels of a major binge in construction of lower-cost housing of all types — for rent, for sale, deed-restricted and not — during the last five years. Vail itself has an affordable housing program that may be second only to that of Aspen among Colorado mountain towns.

The county has an estimated population of more than 50,000, but is expected by demographers to have another 32,000 residents within two decades. Even more disturbing, the county is projected to add 36,000 new jobs, partly to service a growing number of affluent retirees and vacation home owners. This is expected to cause even more people to commute to lateral communities.

“What you don’t want is to keep stretching out the distance between second homes and people who work here,” Salazar said. “That destroys the fabric of the community.”

Virtually nothing in the ULI report was new, but an organizer, Don Cohen, said he believes the view from outside experts will ignite action. “This isn’t going to be shelf ware,” he insists. “This report really will serve as a catalyst to developing more sophisticated ways of looking at the problem and bringing the communities together.”

This report also coincides with a renewed focus on affordable housing in Vail, where some council members have been expressing alarm at current trends. The town’s stated goal, similar to that in Aspen, is to have 30 per cent of all the local workforce live within the town. The town currently is close to that level. But more than $1 billion in redevelopment is underway, with more in the pipeline, which will yield hundreds of new jobs.

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