Top Stories of 2016: Breckenridge passes lift-ticket tax, passes on parking garage (No. 5) |

Top Stories of 2016: Breckenridge passes lift-ticket tax, passes on parking garage (No. 5)

The Breckenridge Town Council and staff held a ribbon cutting on Dec. 1 to welcome Zipcar to the town.

Editor's note: The Summit Daily is counting down the top 10 stories of the year.

Tensions ran high as the town of Breckenridge delayed plans for a parking garage.

In November of 2015, the town voted to approve a lift-ticket tax that would bring in $3.5 million annually. Originally, town staff had talked about using the money to build a parking garage at the F Lot to help alleviate gridlock and parking struggles in the town.

But in late 2016, the town changed gears. After hiring traffic consulting firm NelsonNygaard, it was recommended that Breckenridge lessen traffic in other ways.

In response, Breckenridge Ski Resort began sending letters to its customers about how the town council of Breckenridge had backed down from its promise to build the parking garage using lift tax funds. It was never written into the ballot language that funds from the lift-ticket tax had to be used for a garage. However, higher-ups at the resort believed the town's verbal promises were binding enough.

"They outlined their plan in their public campaign materials for 'Parking Now' and they made it very clear in numerous private meetings with our resort that they were fully and unanimously committed to a parking garage solution," said resort vice president John Buhler in a letter to the editor in the Summit Daily in late September.

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Breckenridge responded with its own letter. Since the town had not received money from the lift tax yet, it used town funds to implement other parking solutions. The council worked on smaller scale projects such as bolstering free transit options and walkability. The car-sharing company Zipcar also brought six vehicles into the town. But the biggest push of the plan was to implement paid parking in streets and lots throughout Breckenridge.

Mayor Eric Mamula said that paid parking in the town was meant as a next step in the process to ease Breck's traffic woes. He added that prices were low enough so as not to prevent locals from coming to town, but high enough to discourage skiers from parking on Main Street all day. Rates for the first hour start at 50 cents in most areas of town. It was a plan that locals would not be happy about, something the town was well aware of.

"We recognize that we're not trying to tout that paid parking is a positive improvement. It is for management, but paid parking is never something that users, especially the locals, view as positive," said Breckenridge's town manager Rick Holman after Buhler wrote to the Daily.

Holman added that the garage was not completely off the table, but that the other projects had taken priority to help minimize traffic. But Buhler argued that other projects were simply distractions.

"When the tax passed a year ago we had hoped that we would be far along on planning and building of new parking in the town core by now. Unfortunately, because of council's failure to follow through on their promises, new parking has been delayed by at least another two years," he wrote in an email to the Daily, responding to the town's comments.

The feud quieted down for a while as the town prepared to start the new paid parking program, which was set to begin on Dec. 1. But before Thanksgiving, The Denver Post wrote a scathing editorial about the town needing to keep its promise and build the garage. Once again, the town responded in turn, with Mamula writing his own letter, saying the conversation was still open and that Breck needed to "move forward."

For Mamula, the tension between the town and the resort is preventing any constructive discussion, adding that the two entities should be working together as partners, for the benefit of the town.

"This is just taking all the oxygen out of every conversation, and that's not how this should be. We should be working on a plan," he said.