Attainable housing is not a new issue for our mountain resort community; arguably it’s been an issue since day one. In the early 2000s, when I became editor of the Vail Trail, Vail’s first newspaper, I was writing stories and columns, and challenging local leaders to take on the complex issue of affordable housing. Talk to the mountains’ longtime patrol members, and they will tell stories of living in the bunkhouse at Lower Patrol Headquarters because patrol, and other resort workers, could barely afford the rents. That was in the mid 1960s. Fast forward to today, Eagle County real estate ended 2022 with the highest total dollar volume of all Colorado ski resort communities at $3.6 billion. The average price of a single-family home is $2.5 million.
Our unique and amazing local business owners are finding it increasingly difficult to find – and retain – workers for all levels of their restaurants, retail shops, medical centers, fire houses and schools. A lack of workforce, educators, and health and emergency providers also leads to a lack of year-round community. With a shortage of affordable living solutions, many are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, and they are arriving at work frustrated, tired, and wondering when the next unexpected repair bill or rent increase will finally force them to move away from the beautiful place they call home. Or they move away because they want to own a home – and that attainable inventory is simply not here to meet the demand today.
It’s clear we need more housing – there is significant demand for a variety of housing types, from rental to attainable for-sale. I look forward to working with Eagle County staff, our municipalities throughout the county, the State of Colorado, and with the many housing advocacy organizations to continue bringing creative housing solutions to fruition. The recent passage of Senate Bill One and the potential to build a new neighborhood on underutilized state land at the eastern end of EagleVail offers tremendous example-setting opportunity of getting homes built by way of multi-jurisdictional collaboration.
Eagle County does have undeveloped land parcels. Eagle County Commissioners set the table for the kind of land-use our community wants to see – from affordable to free-market to mixed-use to open space preservation to recreation.
Importantly, water planning must be incorporated into our land planning. As a journalist, I extensively covered land and water issues for local and regional publications. In 2012 I was a founding member of an organization called Community Builders, first working on the team, later joining the Board of Directors, and becoming Chair of the Board in 2017. My decades of experience in collaborating with the private sector on thoughtful land-use planning, particularly for small and mid-sized mountain resort communities, gives me an informed view into the critical decisions that our county will make in coming years.
Future land-use decisions must: Reflect strategic water planning | Leave the county in equal or stronger financial footing for the long-term | Lay the groundwork for an equitable society where no group or culture is marginalized | Be approved in mind of existing and planned transportation corridors | Be balanced against the need to preserve critical wildlife habitat | Be in keeping with the Eagle County Climate Action Collaborative goals
The cost of housing is one of several major forces putting pressure on Eagle County families and small businesses today. Mothers and fathers can’t go to work to earn the money they need to pay their skyrocketing rent or build savings toward a mortgage because they can’t find available and safe childcare. This issue is daunting in its proportions: Our latest data shows that there are more than 3,000 children under age five in Eagle County, but only 1,565 childcare spots in the Eagle River Valley. Not everyone wants or needs childcare, and yet research shows that more than 1,000 who seek a spot in a licensed childcare facility cannot find one. As any childcare operator will tell you, the waiting lists are long, and thousands of our working families are left in difficult, often desperate, situations. More than 750 children receive childcare through informal networks, often referred to as Friends, Family, and Neighbor networks (FFN). More can be done to alleviate this issue, freeing up mothers and fathers to succeed in their daily work, and to put their hard-earned dollars toward food, lodging, health care, and their own well-being.
Our county benefits from strong expertise and action-oriented progress from our current commissioners and staff on this important issue. In my employment at the Vail Valley Foundation, I explored the details of the childcare problem in Eagle County on our VVF Community Engagement Committee and took a 10-week EPIC Design Lab course on childcare, helping envision and support the VVF’s current employer-based approach to the issue, resulting in a project now under way in partnership with the Town of Avon. Strong partnerships with our school district, municipalities, nonprofits, and existing childcare facility operators are essential to continuing the work currently under way to address this problem.
Today, our workers live farther away from their jobs than ever before. The cost of getting to and from work, often in challenging mountain conditions, is yet another cost-burden that falls upon our working families or on the business community through employment subsidies.
I represented the Vail Valley Foundation on the Regional Transportation Authority’s Stakeholder Committee and I am committed to seeing the RTA succeed. The new RTA can learn from similar RTAs in other resort communities in Colorado and elsewhere in the Mountain West, and will require furthering the collaboration among all of our communities to fund enhanced transit solutions.
Wildlife & environment
As we responsibly grow, our environmental systems take on greater pressure. I remember, from time to time, that my dad would get out the binoculars and point out the elk as they migrated through the thick and healthy pines high above West Vail. In meetings with the Eagle County Wildlife Roundtable group, organized by the National Forest Foundation, I learned that our large-animal herds are decimated by a complex series of factors, all of which tie back to increased pressure from recreation and habitat loss. Managing our lands properly can be done, but it will take support from the entire community to agree that it is a priority to conserve the remaining and precious winter and summer habitat upon which wildlife rely.
When I was a kid we would walk through the meadows of Edwards to fish the Eagle River, only once in a while seeing another angler, who we inevitably knew. The idea of downvalley expansion seemed risky – and unlikely – to many real estate developers, and even West Vail was thought of as “too far away” from the town core. In a relatively short period of time our valley has grown to a point where multiple municipal hubs, from Gypsum to Edwards to Avon and Vail, have grown into one interconnected community that fills most of the valley floor. More people are hiking and biking, hunting and fishing. I believe we can grow our population and also care for our wildlife through active wildlife management and land preservation, but that preservation must put wildlife migration and winter range to the forefront. My parents’ generation worked hard to establish Wilderness Areas that will forever provide high-country habitat. However, the way we grew in the ’80s or ’90s is no longer appropriate if we want to preserve crucial winter habitat.
Eagle County’s economy, its people, water, and wildlife all face pressure from the uncertain future presented by the planet’s changing climate. The efforts to attain greenhouse gas emissions goals are global in scope, but require robust local action.
There are many ways in which Eagle County can continue to be a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and encourage the growth of a cleaner local economy. Eagle County can continue to reduce its own carbon footprint, and work with partners at the regional, state, and national level to find partnerships that will help us attain these goals. As a member of the executive team that wrote the Climate Action Plan, I support the goals set forth in that document. Taking that plan into action will require continued research and incremental action toward electrification of vehicles, homes, and offices, but we must be sure these steps are made wisely, in-step with municipalities, partners, and municipal governments, and do not put an undue burden on our lowest-income families. We must also continue to look ahead to building a climate-resilient community that anticipates the outcomes of climate change as best as possible, and that encourages a diverse and fair economy.
Our local water districts are under increased pressure of demand, even as our watershed is facing incremental aridification. Also, external water users, often from Colorado’s Front Range to the Lower Basin states, are seeking to tap into our streams and rivers by leveraging antiquated water rights.
One of the first requirements for any new project in our County should be demonstrating a robust plan for water use. Western slope water should remain on the western slope. Eagle County should closely review any proposed project under its 1041 authority. We should also support our water districts to ensure safe, clean drinking water for all of our community members. County Commissioners can also play a role by joining a growing consensus among local leaders that water consumers can do more to preserve and conserve local water sources. In-stream rights are a critical part of Eagle County’s economy, and should be preserved and protected.
partnerships & communication
Our next commissioner will need to strengthen our alliances with other municipalities, leading nonprofits, businesses large and small, and people of all races and backgrounds to unify our responses so that our efforts compliment one another.
As your next county commissioner, I will strengthen our alliances with other municipalities (including Basalt and El Jebel), nonprofits, businesses large and small, and people of all races and backgrounds, to unify our responses so that our efforts complement one another. I will rely on longstanding relationships, built over decades, to build consensus with competing interests in ways that find optimal solutions to the issues at hand.
Our many previous and sitting Eagle County Commissioners have spent years putting the County on course to addressing the key issues facing our community then and now. The three-member Board of County Commissioners is more effective when they find unison on ideas, strategies, and tactics. The voters of Eagle County are looking for pragmatic decision-making from their leaders.
There are areas where I can add to the existing work of the County, contributing with a clear vision. Our next commissioner must be able to understand complex issues and put them into language that everyone can understand – and I would make clear communication a priority. There is opportunity to improve the public image of all government with sincere efforts to be more inclusive, and I look forward to contributing to that effort as your next county commissioner.