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Miller: The ghost suburbs

by ALEX MILLER
summit daily news
Frisco, CO Colorado

Reading a magazine story this week about how the housing crisis has affected different parts of the country, I was struck by the situation in areas of Florida. There, vast suburbs created in the past decade are filled with empty houses ” either unsold, uncompleted or foreclosed-upon. Streets ” complete with signs and lights ” of dozens of “Shady-View Acres” ‘burbs sit uncluttered by houses planned but never built. Meanwhile, the remaining residents live in the “ghost ‘burbs ” surrounded by a desultory landscape of unkempt lawns and darkened windows: derelict icons of the American Dream.

Minus the unkempt lawns, it’s interesting to compare these to some of Summit County’s own “ghost ‘burbs ” ” those second-home enclaves where dwellings may be inhabited only a few weeks a year. Add to them the many unsold units, and we have the higher-end equivalent of those sad neighborhoods outside Tampa, Phoenix, Denver and dozens of other places around the country.

Would that we were able to take some of those empty homes and move them up to the high country, where despite a soft real estate market, an average home still remains wildly unaffordable for the average local worker or family. This, of course, has been an issue for years while remaining something mountain communities can never quite get their arms around philosophically. Why, some ask, should taxpayers subsidize housing for some people while others did it on their own? Others point out that such a point may be moot if the result of not providing government assistance causes communities to erode. How deep can a person’s stake in a community be if they pay rent year after year to someone in Lakewood or California? What person commuting from Leadville or Fairplay will have the time or inclination to be an integral part of the Summit County community?

Unlike those hastily erected Florida burbs, Summit County is not some bedroom community cobbled together by carpetbagging developers. When I read the letters and comments we get from people who simply oppose affordable housing help because they themselves didn’t need it, I wonder how broad that sentiment runs. Most polls show a majority of locals supporting affordable housing, yet our progress in the area has been somewhat limited ” especially compared to Pitkin County. As a group of mostly second-home owners in Frisco attempts to sabotage the town’s best shot at creating an affordable locals’ community on the Peak One parcel, Friscoites are left wondering if not now, when? If not at Peak One, then where?

I believe the ballot issue will fail in spectacular fashion as voters become more aware of its duplicitous nature. As the housing situation shakes out nationally, there will hopefully be more opportunities for locals to buy here and remain part of the community. Why anyone would oppose that in favor of empty enclaves or the mountain version of those Florida ghost ‘burbs is beyond me.

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Many readers have called or e-mailed to protest our deletion of the TV listings from our pages. The quick answer is budgetary: In these challenging economic times, we ” like most if not all other businesses ” have had to take out the magnifying glass on all our expenditures, and one feature we determined we could cut was the TV page. With most people getting their information on the digital cable box or even online (yahoo, google, tvguide.com, etc.), my guess is most readers neither noticed nor cared that the TV listings went by the board.

For those who did, we wish we could continue to include the listings daily, but eliminating them saves us the equivalent of a part-time position.

Editor Alex Miller can be reached at amiller@summitdaily.com or 970-668-4618.


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