Scott Bayens: Modern urban exodus has inevitable impacts on western Colorado
There’s lots of reasons why one could argue those who live, work and play in our little corner of the “rural West” operate in a bit of a bubble. Locals often say we’re “living the dream,” and in many ways we are, but perhaps surprising to some, life here is not without challenges related to the cost of health care, housing and sometimes the lack of amenities a larger metro area can afford.
Being based in the mountains is awesome, but from time to time it would be great to be closer to Mile High, Red Rocks and cheaper flights out of DIA.
Since the ’50s, the bucolic lifestyle here has attracted more and more of us, many who came to visit, now deciding to stay. 4G, fiber and the ability to telecommute also have contributed to the grown phenomena; so too have big-city problems like traffic, crime, homelessness and skyrocketing housing costs. It may surprise you to know that the majority of those moving to the Roaring Fork Valley are coming in droves from the Front Range, be it retirees or millennials, with Denver and Boulder leading the way.
My wife’s family hails from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and while we were back over the holidays, we met a couple who had just moved there from San Francisco. I was interested to understand their story in light of headlines I’d seen recently: “Thousands more fleeing region than arriving from other states” and “More S.F. residents look to leave.” These young, educated, hip, former urban dwellers reported many of their friends had left, favorite restaurants had been shuttered and the vibrancy and energy once there now faded.
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Russell Hancock with Joint Venture Silicon Valley explains the Bay Area exodus.
“You can’t even contemplate getting into the housing market here,” Hancock said. “And I don’t mean just service workers, I mean highly skilled professionals, even the tech elite.”
High taxes are a major issue there too, helping push out big companies like Schwab and numerous tech start-ups over the past few years. The aforementioned issue of crime and homelessness are reaching crisis proportions. Meanwhile, the same scenario is playing out in other major U.S. cities including Seattle, Los Angeles and even Manhattan.
Here in the Roaring Fork Valley we have begun to see the impact of the shift from these urban centers. Since 2017, the town of Basalt has been working diligently to update its master plan, a process that requires town officials to determine potential growth.
“The growth numbers are kind of staggering,” Councilman Ryan Slack said at a public meeting recently. According to a story that ran in The Aspen Times last week, Basalt has 1,754 existing units. Under the draft master plan, the total number of new units could range from 3,197 to 3,521 in coming years; at least doubling if not tripling the number of homes here.
So that leaves not just Basalt, but all of our local municipalities with a herculean task specific to schools, streets and other services. Rush hour gridlock, particularly in the mid and upper valleys, is sure to get worse. Equally troubling is the impact on local attractions like Hidden Lake, Maroon Bells and even the 9-mile hike to Conundrum Hot Springs. All of those destinations are accessible only by permit or subject to restrictions due to the sheer number of annual visitors. And you had better be out the door early Friday to secure your favorite and formerly secret camping spot.
That said, you might think those of us who make our living selling dirt would be drooling over the prospect of all these potential new clients and commissions. The potential gold rush really isn’t the point. Those of us who understand and pay attention to the emerging dynamics, know housing is already an issue in this valley; so too is infrastructure, affordable services and health care. As a community, we not only need to acknowledge this new migration, this inevitable tectonic shift, but work together to find and create opportunity in it.
Stagnation and inaction are no longer options. We need to encourage and support our local officials in their effort to plan and prepare. The concept of “no growth” is not only impractical, it’s idiotic. Affordability must evolve to become a priority, not just here, but everywhere. We have to stop ignoring the middle and working class, incentivize tech, invite manufacturing, provide tax incentives and incubate green business.
In a place where we enjoy so much wealth and intellectual capital, our collective goal should be to provide a model the rest of the country can follow and finally burst the bubble we’re become accustomed to living in for so long.
Scott Bayens (GRI, ABR, CNE) is a realtor and top producer with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. Learn more by visiting his website at http://www.aspendreamhome.com.
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