Can Vail find a way to balance locals, second-home owners?
By the numbers
34: Percentage of homes in Vail occupied year ‘round in 2014.
52.1: Percentage of homes in Aspen occupied year ‘round in 2014.
51.5: Percentage of full-time occupied homes in Steamboat Springs in 2014.
42.9: Percentage of full-time occupied homes in Telluride in 2014.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau.
VAIL — A mid-May evening drive through most neighborhoods shows most homes with their lights on. The same drive in Vail would be different and darker.
Vail has long struggled with the number of homes in town owned by people who don’t spend most of their time there. In the 1990s, the touted number was 75 percent or so. The intervening years have improved the situation, but not by much.
The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2014, indicates that one-third of all the town’s housing units are occupied by full-time residents. That’s up from the 1990s, but the current 66 percent of homes that belong to second-home owners is worse than the 63 percent reported in the 2000 Census.
And sample of 2014 U.S. Census Bureau data from Aspen, Steamboat Springs and Telluride shows that only Telluride has less than half of its homes occupied full time.
So, what does that mean?
On one hand, second-home owners are a valuable asset, according to one town councilmember.
“Second homes and in-lodge beds pay all of the freight around here,” Vail Town Council member Greg Moffet said. “There’s no way any of us wake up and think, ‘Some day we’ll be rid of them.’”
On the other hand, it’s important to have people who actually spend most of their time in town.
Full-time residents are “integral to building community,” said Kristen Bertuglia, town of Vail environmental sustainability manager. “When you live, work and play in the same place, you cut transportation costs, and it also creates a sense of community.”
From visitor to resident
Bobby Lipnick is making the transition from vacation visitor to roughly half-time resident. He and his family have been coming to Vail for decades to vacation. Now that he spends about half his year here, he’s discovering more about the town he’s vacationed in for so long.
“The difference is the feeling of community,” he said. “Before, I felt like I was a visitor and I was going to a beautiful tourist attraction.”
Now he is starting to work with local nonprofits and other groups — he’s currently a member of a task force helping the town in its drive to become certified as a sustainable resort. That would be the first such certification for a mountain resort in the U.S.
While Lipnick and others who have decided to make Vail home are settling in, the question remains — how does the town continue to attract full-time residents?
Vail Housing Director Alan Nazzaro believes keeping housing stock available for residents will require some kind of town intervention. With land scarce and building costs escalating, he says the answer might be in putting public funds toward buying deed restrictions on homes that come up for sale. Those restrictions would probably cap a home’s appreciation and would require the new owners to be full-time residents.
He and other town officials are drafting a housing plan the Vail Town Council will be asked to approve in the coming weeks or months. Part of that plan will include policies that encourage sales to full-time residents. A deed restriction is one tool. Another is the possibility of waiving the town’s real estate transfer tax on any sale to a full-time resident.
The rise of the INTERNET
Another topic, and one that may become heated, is the growth of online rentals, such as AirBnB.
Cities and states are starting to regulate units that are rented out. Nazzaro said his office will ask the council to consider further regulations on those rentals.
But online rentals help ease a tightening supply of lodging units.
“We need the beds, but we also need the workers,” he said. “We’re trying to do our best to preserve what’s left” of homes for full-time residents, he added. That means, perhaps, putting the town into the business of paying people to put deed restrictions on their homes.
That’s going to take money, and a good bit of it, from some source.
Vail and Eagle County don’t have dedicated housing funds. Eagle County is likely to ask voters this fall for a sales-tax increase to fund housing programs. Moffet said Vail should follow suit.
“There’s no path that gets us from A to B without more money,” he said.
What that looks like is still unknown. And what can only be partial solutions will still be complex.
“The answer lies in nuance and balance,” Moffet said. “People want simple answers — there are none.”
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