Miller: Community " or ghost town?
April 30, 2009
This week’s denial of a town charter amendment to create special elections on decisions affecting larger parcels in Frisco was a victory for those who believe town government needs to act on attainable housing for working locals. At the same time, it was discouraging that nearly 400 people voted for the measure, informing us that there are still a number of Frisco residents who simply don’t understand or appreciate the precarious position the town is in relative to its identity as a community.
When we think of “community,” typically what comes to mind is a mix of people: younger singles, young families, established families, empty-nesters, retirees and the like. In Summit County, seasonal workers and second-home owners are also part of our communities – substantial parts, at that. It’s no secret that SHOs contribute a great deal to our county in terms of revenue generation. They pay taxes but use little of the services those taxes pay for. They cannot vote here, since their primary residence is elsewhere. But as the mix goes, the ratio of SHOs to local owners is skewed tremendously (above 60 percent in most areas of the county). And there lies the problem.
A growing trend is that SHOs “convert” to full-time residents. Oftentimes these are well-to-do folks with grown children who have strong opinions about how things should be and, as the conventional wisdom goes, they want things to remain exactly as they were the moment they moved here.
That pushiness is not always the case, of course, but as we’ve seen in Frisco and other mountain communities, the recent converts can have an outsized influence on local politics since they’ve got time, money and passion to do so. The denial of what would have been a wonderful addition to Frisco (Colorado Mountain College) was due in part to this phenomenon, and we saw it again with the so-called “Friends of Frisco Open Space” who forced a “right-to-vote” election that had little to do with either open space or voting rights. Comprised mostly of converts or SHOs near the proposed affordable housing neighborhood at the Peak One parcel, it seemed clear to many Frisco locals that it was simply the “not-in-my-backyard” forces at work once again.
But that’s not entirely true, either. For one thing, we all have a little “NIMBY” in us. No one ever wants their view disturbed or to endure a few years’ or construction noises. When it comes to our homes, change in the ‘hood is not often a welcome thing. For another, there are plenty of more established people in the neighborhood who have legitimate concerns about the scale and potential impact of the project (which I believe will be addressed fully in the coming months through the public process).
But then we have to get back to the notion of “community.” The modest duplex my family rents, for example, sold new in the early 1990s for about $165,000; my landlord recently suggested he’d be happy to part with it for $700,000. Assuming we could come up with even a 5 percent downpayment, that translates to a mortgage of about $4,400 per month. A laughable amount for a middle-class family like ours, but a great indicator of the reasons why towns like Frisco are creating things like Peak One: Even in these soft times for real estate, housing here is still wildly out-of-whack with what people make.
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It’s not difficult to see what will happen if nothing is done to level this playing field, and it’s already happening: Local families will simply leave for less-expensive places, leaving behind towns with absentee ownership levels at 70 percent and above.
That ain’t a community; that’s a ghost town. Peak One, like Breck’s Wellington Neighborhood, will be a vibrant core neighborhood for Frisco where the lights are all on year-round. It’s time to set aside irrational fears that it’ll be a project full of ne’er-do-wells, abandoned vehicles and high-rise condos. This will be a place for Frisco’s middle class to call home, and in a few short years we’ll wonder why anyone ever thought otherwise.
Editor Alex Miller can be reached at email@example.com or 970-668-4618.