In Vail, where the rich play, workers can't afford to live 2,500 jobs go begging, but not $300,000 condos


VAIL, Colo. -- What does it take to get a job at the Daily Grind, a coffee shop on Bridge Street, this resort town's internationally renowned shopping street?

For an answer, Kaye Ferry, the owner, inhaled, then exhaled. "Are you breathing?" she asked the other day. "Yes? You've got a job."

Decades of following laissez-faire housing policies are catching up with Vail and as many as 2,500 jobs may go begging this winter.

The cause for a labor shortage in Colorado's most popular ski town is as clear as the advertising lineage in a recent issue of the Vail Daily. The newspaper printed 586 inches of classified advertising offering jobs, but only 30 inches of housing advertising.

For years, Vail could ignore rising housing prices, content to allow the members of its work force who live locally to dwindle to 30 percent. With the median price of a condominium here approaching $300,000, a recent survey calculated that a worker would have to hold down five full-time jobs at $10 an hour to live there.

Bordered on the east by a 10,666-foot-high Rocky Mountain pass, this town historically draws its commuters from the west, from Eagle River Valley.

Up and down the valley, warning signals about the housing crunch have been obvious.

Last summer, the Bureau of Land Management shortened maximum stays in local campgrounds to one week, hoping to cut down on the number of local workers who seemed to be on four-month camping trips.

Elsewhere in the valley, the town of Gypsum passed an ordinance forbidding residents from renting their driveways to workers who lived there in campers.

Eagle County housing prices leaped by two-thirds in the 1990s, and since 1990 six county trailer parks have been leveled to make way for more vacation homes.

But if Vail's wealthy residents were not overly worried about the social hollowing of their town, the wake up call came when business owners realized that business growth down valley was diverting their commuting workers.

In response, last summer the Vail Town Council approved an ambitious plan known as Common Ground, to build 1,600 living units to rent or sell at subsidized prices to local workers. Four neighborhood groups immediately sued, saying the plan would build housing on land originally earmarked for parks.

For business owners, however, the issue is urgent.

Chuck Ogilby, a motel owner and member of the task force, said: "Everybody's panicked because they don't have enough employees. For the first time in my 30 years living here, housing is now at the top of the agenda."

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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