Real estate and county politics

Brief by Allen Best

Economy – November 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

Population growth and development are at the top of issues in the county commissioner races in Eagle County. The county is bisected by I-70 from Vail Pass to Glenwood Canyon, but also includes a portion of Aspen’s mid-valley commutershed.

Incumbent Peter Runyon says the current population growth is alarming. There are 29,000 dwelling units in Vail, Avon, and other towns as well as unincorporated areas, plus current zoning allows another nearly 18,000 units. The upshot: a 60 percent increase in housing — virtually all of it unaffordable to the average local, he claims.

“This isn’t some cheesy scare tactic,” he insists in an item published in the Vail Daily. “This is reality. The cautionary tale is one of increased traffic, increased stress on our infrastructure, increasing minimum wage jobs, increasing crime, and decreasing quality of life.”

His opponent, Dick Gustafson, sees this growth as good. He notes that 65 percent of the county’s economy is premised on the real estate sector. “Intelligent growth is essential to our economy.”

He objects to the county building what he calls “socialized housing,” for middle to low-income wage earners. He also accuses current county commissioners, all of them Democrats, of extorting revenue from second-home owners.

When he was a county commissioner 20 years ago, Gustafson was instrumental in advocating development of the Eagle County Regional Airport, a key stimulus to growth. The development was partially created with tax revenues.

For some reason, lower-cost housing is seen as a province of the private sector, but economic development is not.