Tuesday, December 10, 2019

I was thinking

So I was riding the new Teocalli chairlift Saturday—actually, I might still be riding the new Teo chairlift, given the speed it was running last weekend—and I appreciate that it has given me time to think. A lot of time to think. Teo is not the fastest fixed gripper on the planet but it sure is a pretty ride.

And just because there is time to think doesn’t mean there is time to reach conclusions. For example, I was thinking about this potential “Empty House Tax” that the Crested Butte Town Council is considering. I’m not on board yet. Is it a fair way to help fund affordable housing or is it just another easy revenue stream and quick way to gouge the rich people who like coming to Crested Butte? Maybe tax everyone and give permanent residents a 90% break. The council representatives have clearly stated they do not want to fuel the fire of an “us versus them” vibe that some on council say already exists, but can their good intentions convince that segment of the community that such a tax is a worthwhile contribution to make in order to make their Crested Butte lives better when they are here?

The council made a somewhat persuasive argument for that case Monday, pointing out that if local restaurants can’t find workers because workers can’t find a place to live, those second homeowners won’t have a good experience when they get here. The second homeowners point out they already pay a lot of year-round fees but impact the place only a few weeks or months a year. The dialogue the council wants to have is up to them to seek out, but Lord knows this tax idea is something the community will be thinking (and talking) about for the next few months. As usual, the devil is in the details.

I was thinking about what the upper valley would be like if all of those second homes were occupied all the time. Talk about lines. It would be like July in November. Good luck getting the seven o’clock dinner reservation. The morning school drop-off would certainly be much more interesting.

It sort of goes to the Crested Butte town staff request to the council to take a big picture look at future decisions. If the community builds, say, another 500 rental units up here, where do those additional 1,000 people recreate or where do their kids go to school or who comes to fix their faucet when it is broken since the local trades people are already slammed? More housing, affordable or free market, means more people and more people means more impact on the climate and more need for more workers and more, more, more. What is the limit, if any, for this community? Maybe that idea doesn’t need a year-long Community Compass (silly name) initiative but those questions should always be part of any decision.

I was thinking about how some local businesses are having a hard time finding people to work even a little bit in their places. It used to be that if you moved here, even with a family, you probably needed a couple jobs. There was no shortage of local moms working as waitresses a few years ago but that doesn’t seem to be a necessity for newer residents. So it adds to that worker shortage. There is a sweet spot with just the right number of workers for the community. I wish there were more workers looking for seasonal jobs right now because I feel the angst some local employers are experiencing. But about two minutes after we reach that sweet spot it will move because someone, somewhere will be short a dishwasher or a clerk. As has been said a lot recently, this place can’t house everyone who wants to live here so we need to think about what the top of the curve looks like.

I was thinking about how Dawne’s “Poor Little Rich Town” series basically pointed to the gentrification of Crested Butte. That is neither good or bad, it just is. It might be inevitable. And honestly, it has brought comforts I don’t want to give up. It’s certainly easier to be here now than when I got here in the ’80s. I am thinking there is no question I’ve gotten soft. There is less wildness, less rowdiness, less questionable parenting and more things to do, nicer facilities, more choices on every front. The old rowdy rule breakers have moved on, mellowed out or died. Or maybe I just go to bed too early these days and miss the new wild ones. Soft.

I was thinking that Mt. Crested Butte finds itself in a fortuitous situation when it comes to future affordable housing. They have both land with the upcoming North Village project, and money with the upcoming lodging tax. Not every government entity that wants to address workforce housing has both of those luxuries. I was thinking it will be interesting to see how they approach the opportunities they have with both money and land in their back pocket.

I was thinking (again) that a person can’t honestly be a staunch environmentalist living at 9,000 feet in a ski resort…it just takes too much energy to survive in a cold, remote valley that depends on airplanes, autos and big ski lifts for its economy. But you can try to make a difference with your situation. And maybe those actions will influence visitors who come here and they will take action back in Texas or wherever. Still, I would never claim to be an enviro and I really think the climate issue is ultimately a population issue.

I was thinking that sometimes we all think too much. How can a family of four afford a ski vacation? Why can’t I buy underwear in Crested Butte? What’s the best time to pick up a package at the post office? Heck, one of the Overheards we received about the Teo Lift this week noted how much more weed a person could smoke given the pace of the newest lift on the mountain. While all these thoughts might make it seem I smoked too much weed on the lift, I didn’t.

So sit back and enjoy the new Teo lift. It really is pretty. Teo, like life, doesn’t always have to be fast. Let it flow instead of demanding it get us there immediately. New housing is happening but it will never meet the ultimate need. Second homeowners already pay a lot to vacation here and they may be willing to put more on their tab but take the time to have the deep conversations with them. More coffee options, a good school, a new performance hall have positive and negative impacts but they are here to stay. Don’t think too much about the good old days. They’re old and they’re over.

Take a breath and enjoy the ride. Be where you are. Not everyone gets that opportunity to be in a place like this.

See you on the lift….

—Mark Reaman

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