Panel puts fresh eyes on housing crunch | AspenTimes.com

Panel puts fresh eyes on housing crunch

Scott N. Miller
Vail correspondent

Urban Land Institute spokesman Tony Salazar, in a talk Monday at the Eagle Valley Jet Center, discusses the group's first day of evaluating growth and land-use policies in Eagle County. (Kira Horvath/Vail Daily)

Aspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY – There are 16 fresh eyes on Eagle County’s housing problems this week.

Those perspectives belong to an eight-member panel of architects, planners and financial specialists who belong to the nonprofit Urban Land Institute. That group Sunday began a packed schedule of bus tours and interviews with local political and business leaders that will be followed by two days of report-writing.

Panel members got a little break Monday at the reception at the Vail Valley Jet Center, and a chance to chat informally with some of the people they were set to interview Tuesday.

Monday evening, panel members had only put in one day of work in Eagle County – with the exception of Basalt and El Jebel – but group spokesman Tony Salazar had some early impressions about the county.

The group’s early opinions weren’t surprising – the valley has some good projects and some bad ones. And, Salazar said, the panel heard early on about one of the valley’s looming problems – the growing imbalance between second homes and places the valley’s work force can live.

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“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.”

Advice about steps to take to correct those and other problems will be in a report that will be presented Friday morning at the Cascade Village theater in Vail. Once the panel’s report is finished, it’s up to local politicians to decide what to do with the recommendations.

Tom Boni doesn’t expect to see anything revolutionary in the panel’s report. Boni, a local land planner, said he expects the panel to recommend some “classical” approaches to local projects, such as allowing developers to build more homes near downtowns and similar areas.

Those ideas are often unpopular with residents already living in those areas.

“Sometimes it takes someone from outside to say those things,” Boni said.

The county is currently looking at an Edwards project called “The West End” that would put as many as 60 condominiums and retail/office space on property just west of the Gashouse restaurant.

Salazar said he hoped the outside panel could help the valley keep its economic engine running by finding a balance between second homes and people who live and work in the valley.

While many of the people at the reception had ties to local government, there were also a few businesspeople on hand.

“I’m here because I’m interested in affordable housing,” Glenn Heelan said. Heelan owns property in Eagle and Gypsum, and is clearly interested in developing it. But he added, whatever recommendations the panel makes won’t work in practice without the right economic situation.

“I believe in the law of supply and demand,” Heelan said. “If it makes sense economically, it’ll happen.”

Jan Rosenthal Townsend owns stores in Edwards and Eagle. She thinks the outside consultants could help find answers to the valley’s housing problems, if the politicians follow through.

“Doing what we’re advised to do and just talking about it are two different things,” Rosenthal Townsend said. “We should make sure we do something.”