Breck Town Council race begins with public forum
summit daily news
BRECKENRIDGE ” Childcare, affordable housing and the vitality of Main Street are all high on the list for town council candidates here, who presented themselves to citizens during an easy- going question and answer session Wednesday night at town hall.
Taking written questions from the audience, all the candidates tended toward consensus positions on many issues, with a few nuances on some specific questions. Candidate Dave Rossi was not able to attend the session.
The idea of metered parking in the downtown core won a qualified thumbs-up from just one candidate, former council member John Warner, who said there needs to be an educational process.
“We need to be shown that it works,” Warner said, explaining that the concept seems to be successful in Aspen, Telluride and other resort communities ” as long the technical elements are functioning smoothly.
The other candidates said parking meters and paid parking would impact aesthetics and the “small-town feel” of Breckenridge, according to incumbent Jim Lamb, running for reelection.
Michael Cavanaugh said parking issues would best be addressed via a central parking district with convenient transportation links to the core retail areas.
The recent Kinderhut controversy and pending development at Peak 7 and Peak 8 spurred a question on how local small businesses can compete with Vail Resorts’ retail division.
Jennifer McAtamney, the only woman running for council in this election, said that decision should be left to small business owners. The town’s role is to stay out of the way, she said.
Warner said the resort needs to “take ownership” in this area, suggesting that the company is not always in touch with Main Street sentiment.
“They’re not evil, but they make mistakes,” he said of Vail Resorts. Executives with the ski company need to know what people in town are thinking and be sensitive to those concerns, he said.
Candidate Michael Cavanaugh described it as a struggle of the fittest, and pointed out that Vail’s limited retail operations at the ski resort will also be struggling in the same competitive environment.
Another long-running and always-hot topic is the idea of a sales tax on lift tickets. All the candidates agreed that the potential for such a tax gives the town some leverage in its relationship with the resort, but no one advocated playing that card loosely.
“If we can cooperate, it’s not needed,” said Bryan Whitcomb, pointing out that the option is always there, “if things don’t go well.”
Cavanaugh said such a tax would probably result in some of the ski company’s other fiscal contributions shrinking, but acknowledged that the revenue would likely far outweigh what Vail Resorts contributes voluntarily through other channels.
Ron Schuman said such a tax would be his last choice, while Lamb said it should be considered if the town identifies a specific need without finding alternate funding sources.
McAtamney, meanwhile, said she would consider such a tax, given the fact that town services are stretched on weekends. She pointed out that other resort communities have a sales tax on tickets and still manage to maintain a productive relationship with the ski companies. With the new gondola on-line, she said the resort is tied more closely to the town than ever before, not just operating on Forest Service land, implying that revenues from a ticket tax could help fund services that benefit the town and the resort.
Most of the candidates said they think land purchased with open space funds should remain dedicated to that purpose – unless the issue is revisited by voters. Warner said there should be some leeway to make deals that could end up generating funds for more significant open space purchases.
Asked about the future of town-owned property along Airport Road, all the candidates envisioned the area as a gateway for the town, with water storage an important feature on that land. Schuman said the plans could include some affordable housing, providing it fits on the land, while Whitcomb said he’d like to see some sort of nod toward the area’s mining heritage on that site.
Warner cautioned against dumping too much density on the site and said restoration of the Blue River should be a priority.
The future of I-70 also drew a few diverging opinions, with Lamb and McAtamney advocating for immediate widening to solve some of the most urgent congestion issues.
Schuman said he’s not in favor of more lanes, while Warner said the solution could come from a “land ferry” system, enabling motorists to drive their cars onto a flatbed train to travel through the mountain corridor.
Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970-331-5996, or at email@example.com.
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