Roger Marolt: Backing ourselves into a corner we can’t afford
There is an awful lot of land available if we get hungry enough
There is a shortage of workers, here and everywhere. The genesis may be the same pandemic thing, but I bet the situation will be resolved nationally long before it is fixed in our mountain resort.
There are already signs that the labor crunch is abating around us. It turns out all businesses had to do was give workers more respect and healthy raises. If only it might be that easy locally. We could certainly respect our workforce more. All that takes is concentration. Before rushing out of the office for an evening trail run, we need to focus on telling our employees we genuinely appreciate all they do for us to enable our evening trail runs. It is a fine line between gratuitous and gracious in this regard, but we can do it. It only requires giving somebody two minutes of undivided attention.
That said, we can give our employees all the thanks and cash we can muster and still can’t keep them around in the post-COVID era. To keep someone around, they need an around to keep. The “around” of which I speak, of course, is a home.
A home can be a lot of things, from a mansion to an efficiency, a tent to the Taj Mahal, a friend’s sofa to a self-sustained cabin in the woods. It could be as simple as a van down by the river with a blow up mattress in the back. The problem is we don’t have enough of any of these things for the hired help.
The issue is not money. We have a tried and true method of raising it: We tax the rich and give to the upper middle class. Whatever we need can be had by upping the ante for semi-locals through property and sales tax hikes. So far nobody seems to notice, much less complain, at least not in the way it really matters, which is packing up and leaving for good. My guess is that few have protested in this manner. More likely it is aging out of the joy of winter that gets most to vacate living the dream. This can happen as young as early middle age for those moving here with unrealistic expectations for long January thaws or the first time seeing apple blossoms capped with fresh May powder.
It’s not a lack of will to house our workforce, either. Locals have almost always held sway in local elections, the exception being the vote on Snowmass Base Village. It felt like a lot of second-homeowners were a little too proud of the outcome to not have surreptitiously participated. For those worried about that, don’t. I’m sure the statute of limitations for voter fraud has run its due course.
The point is that most locals support more affordable housing, yet we still don’t have near enough.
What they say is that there is no land. The place is built-out. There is no more room for housing. It is what we have accepted as indisputable truth. From the time I was child growing up here, I have heard this and believed it because they said it over and over again, even though it did not exactly jibe with what I observed.
The truth is that we have tons of vacant land. Just look. Everywhere you look there is open space. We have so much open space that we don’t even know what to do with it. So we preserve it, because that is something to do with it and it gives immediate satisfaction to the senses. It looks beautiful and smells nice. It’s fun to ride bikes over.
I might guess that we have preserved so much usable land around us because we were worried it would be used by someone else, namely second homeowners for big mansions. The logic would have been something like, “if we can’t use it, then these out-of-towners sure as heck aren’t going to, either.” It could be considered governance by vindication.
So we actually do have a solution, if we really want one, which we might not right away, but might some day many years down the road when it becomes impossible to eat out or shop locally and none of the roads got repaired before asphalt and concrete were banned in order to save the planet. Look, I’m not suggesting we take any action today. I am only pointing out that there is an awful lot of land available, if we get hungry enough.
Roger Marolt knows they can’t make anymore land around here, but there sure is a lot of it sitting around doing nothing. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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