Breckenridge mayoral candidates talk housing, transit
With the first mayoral election in several years, Breckenridge will have three candidates vying for one seat. Former councilmembers Eric Mamula and Jennifer McAtamney will seek another term with the town, while local chef Brian Chiarizio will add a fresh face to the mix. The candidates discussed their take on local issues, including workforce housing, transportation and tourism with the Summit Daily.
INTRODUCING THE CANDIDATES
A 13-year resident of Breckenridge, Brian Chiarizio currently works as a kitchen manager at Rita’s, after serving as a chef at several other local restaurants. With prior experience in the Coast Guard, studying as an engineer at the Coast Guard Academy, Chiarizio moved to Breckenridge after visiting a friend for a week.
“I fell in love with it — the mountains, the small-town atmosphere — and never went back,” he said.
Chiarizio does not have prior experience on town council, but has a strong interest in bringing in more affordable housing and improving hourly wages for workers.
“I’m an hourly worker. I’ve seen the wages stay stagnant while the cost of living continues to grow,” Chiarizio said. “I figured, why not give it a chance, throw my hat in there, and give a voice to us little guys.”
To make housing more accessible to locals, Chiarizio suggests setting aside more space for workforce housing, implementing stronger restrictions on vacation rentals and increasing wages.
“I see it on a daily basis, trying to find workers in my own restaurant, people can’t find a place to live and move away,” he said. “There are help wanted signs on every business on Main Street.”
As far as transportation is concerned, Chiarizio approves of the current transit system, but said the town could spread awareness to increase use of the local bus routes. He does not support creating a large parking structure on the F-lot, but might look at other locations for such a structure.
“I think there are probably some better spots that we could talk about putting a parking garage than that corner,” he said. “Add 300-400 cars, and (Park Avenue) gets congested even more.”
Owner of the namesake restaurant, “Downstairs at Eric’s” for 20 years, Eric Mamula is looking to run for mayor of Breckenridge. Originally from Pennsylvania, Mamula moved to Summit County in 1986, before opening his own restaurant.
“I grew up in the restaurant business,” Mamula laughed. “My parents both owned restaurants. It was really the fallback.”
Mamula had served on the town’s planning commission since 1998, before he was elected to council twice in 2004 and 2008. He served on planning again through the end of 2015. During his time with the town, he has assisted with bringing in the town’s recreation center and ice rink, and establishing an open space tax.
“I bring a wealth of experience in government and business,” Mamula said. “I think we’ve had great leadership by councils in the past, and it’s important that we constantly step back. These are important decisions.”
Having lived in the county for several years, and raised a family in Breckenridge, Mamula has seen the town grow dramatically since he first arrived.
“It’s insane how busy the town has become. It is beyond my wildest dreams honestly,” he said.
With the added pressure from more tourism year-round, Mamula noted his interest in improving public transit, and partnering with private developers to provide more workforce housing.
“Being a business that caters to both locals and tourists, that gives me a unique perspective on what we do as a community,” Mamula said. “Everyone puts the town before their own priorities. It’s special—it makes the town what it is.”
After serving as a marketing director for an international software and consulting firm in New York, Jennifer McAtamney moved to Summit County in 1999 to start a new career. She created her own property management company, she helped manage the Wellington neighborhood, and three others.
“My husband wanted to be here because it’s a real town,” she said. “Most neighborhoods I managed had workforce housing.”
McAtamney has served two terms on council, from 2006 to 2014, and is now running for mayor of Breckenridge. She is currently serving on the childcare advisory committee, and as co-chair of the Breckenridge organizing committee for the USA ProChallenge.
“I want to be back in the conversation,” she said. “My ideas are great ideas, but they are then melded with the others on council. When we work with one another, we create policy that is more reflective of our community.”
While McAtamney said she was interested in helping lead discussion surrounding Breckenridge’s parking and transit crunch, she is also passionate about providing workforce housing and making the town more sustainable.
“If you’re spending 30 percent of your income on rent, spending 20 percent on childcare, and now you’re trying to buy a gallon of milk at $8, the whole thing just doesn’t fit,” McAtamney said. “It’s important to understand people have to cobble together multiple jobs—it takes a lot of work to be a local here.”
Q&A ON THE ISSUES
What do you believe the duty of mayor entails?
Chiarizio: “As mayor, you are the face of the town. It’s your job to push the town and make sure the workers are happy, citizens are happy, and that the tourists are having a great experience and want to come back. You need to lead the town council and push initiatives through with them, talk with them.”
Mamula: “I think the mayor is just another councilperson in one aspect. You can help set the course for council, and you’re helping set the course for the next four years for the community. This is a big year of change, too. I think I have the experience to make it through this change.”
McAtamney: “I want to make sure all ideas are heard, and be available and accessible to the community. I would like to serve as an ambassador. These kinds of things, I think, are important aspects of being mayor. It’s leading by example.”
What do you think is the best approach to Breckenridge’s parking and transit issues?
Chiarizio: “I don’t own a car, so I am a constant public transportation user. That system’s working well, we just need to promote it a little so people aren’t always driving. I don’t really like the whole idea of a parking garage on the F-lot because that corner’s already congested enough.”
Mamula: “What a wonderful problem to have. When I opened my restaurant in ’89, that problem didn’t exist. Being a Main Street businessperson, I really see the impacts of traffic and parking issues. I think there’s a big opportunity to increase our transit offerings, to make it easier for the workforce to get around town and tourists to get around town.”
McAtamney: “I feel like I’m a really important voice with regards to parking and transit. It was one of my ideas coming off council was to get a holistic picture and understand who our users were. The dialogue’s really shifted away from building a big structure, and there are all kinds of innovative things we can do to make the town more walkable, improve wayfinding—there’s a bunch of low-hanging fruit.”
How would you work to create more workforce housing in Breckenridge?
Chiarizio: “I see it on a daily basis, trying to find workers in the restaurant, people can’t find a place to live and move away. I think there need to be tighter regulations on Airbnb. People are renting out week-to-week because they can make more money that way, and I can understand that from a business perspective. But you can’t sustain a town without a workforce.”
Mamula: “I was on planning when Wellington came through. That’s something I think the town does really well, is get locals to live here instead of living down valley. I don’t feel the town is capable of building projects on a mass scale. Wellington has been a success because there is one man with a vision behind it.”
McAtamney: “We need to have more stuff like the Wellington neighborhood because their demand already outstrips supply over there. Right now the market is rental, rental, rental, but instead of letting that be the guiding force, we should be determining what we want to look at and then make the plan for how we want to get it built.”
What other issues are you passionate about?
Chiarizio: “I’d like to see us bring marijuana back to Main Street. I don’t know why that was such a big issue. They say it hurts the family image of town, but when you look at every t-shirt shop in town, what do you see? A pot leaf.”
Mamula: “Water rights for the town are really important to me. I think Breckenridge needs to make sure we secure our water future. We’re building a second water treatment plant. I’ve been serving on the water taskforce since 2012.”
McAtamney: “We’ve made some really good strides on sustainability. We should be stewards. I’ve worked with local kids to pass the plastic bag fee here, I’m also interested in taking up the issue of single-use water bottles; I want to take the approach of making sure people have alternatives.”
How should the town work with Vail Resorts?
Chiarizio: “I think, for now, it’s a decent working relationship with those guys. They seem to be willing to compromise, go in where they can. I think they know as a town, we need their help, and as a company, they need us to have their back as well.”
Mamula: “Neither of us can survive without the other. The people who run the mountain on the local level, they’re still locals. Developing relationships so you can argue in a meeting and still be friendly after, I think that’s important for a council to be successful.”
McAtamney: “I want to be straightforward in setting expectations. There will be many opportunities where our duties intersect and we will have synergy between us; I think those are the pieces we should focus on. Right now we’re coming up on a lot of opportunities.”
What role should tourism play in Breckenridge’s economy?
Chiarizio: “We should continue pushing shoulder seasons and the summertime, and keep those growing. People already know about us in the winter. Our summers are almost as busy as our winters now.”
Mamula: “We are a tourist community. We have gone through phases as a town where we have tried to become something else, but that’s what we are. It’s important that we realize that, embrace it, work with the ski area and other partners to make sure not only the guests have a great experience but the locals have a great experience too.”
McAtamney: “We are a tourism economy and we have to make sure that functions so locals can thrive here. Times are really good right now, but they can change. It’s important to keep our eye on the ball, and not lose our quality of life.”
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