Breckenridge Town Council this week went on the offensive in response to a scathing letter from a top ski resort official.
In a Sept. 25 letter in the Summit Daily, Breckenridge Ski Resort COO John Buhler claimed the council backed down from its promise to build a parking garage as part of an agreement to institute a lift-ticket tax bringing in as much as $3.5 million annually for the town’s transportation needs.
Town officials say that a parking structure was never a guarantee and has since dropped down the list of the most-effective means of fixing the community’s traffic woes. That wasn’t the resort’s understanding.
“In meeting after meeting, both public and in private, we agreed with council that parking is a priority issue and has to be addressed. And we took the council at their word when they promised us and our guests, the skiers and snowboarders who will be paying the tax, that an immediate parking facility in the town core was a major part of the plan that they very publicly declared had been ‘studied to death,’” said Buhler in an email to the Summit Daily.
The letter to the Daily is not the only way Buhler has been speaking out. Breckenridge Ski Resort has sent emails out to customers explaining the tax, and again claiming that the town has backed down on plans to build a garage. The town of Breckenridge responded by creating a letter of its own. According to the letter, Breckenridge has already spent $1.5 million on parking and transportation improvements. So far, this has been done without funds from the lift-ticket tax.
Voters approved the tax in November by a large margin. The tax itself was deferred until July 1 so that a system could be developed to collect funds from resort customers.
Town manager Rick Holman said that when the council first proposed the plan for the garage in the summer of 2015, it heard a lot of community concern that the 700-900 spot garage would not alleviate traffic congestion. Holman added that part of the plan from the beginning was to hire a consultant to get the facts and make sure a structure would not make the problem worse.
Holman said that when the town hired transportation firm NelsonNygaard to be the consultant on the project, the firm told them that putting a large parking garage there would be one of the worst things the town could do for traffic. From there, the town began to look at additional solutions.
“That’s what you do when you hire people, you become smarter,” Holman said.
Since then, the town council has been working on smaller-scale projects to help decrease traffic in the town. One of the more visible projects was the free trolley that began running earlier this month. Some of these projects revolve around improving the town’s walkability, including identifying potential places for sidewalk construction and improving the lighting quality at night.
Holman added that building a parking garage for the town is not completely off the table, but that the council and town staff want to make sure that they have taken steps to help alleviate traffic congestion first.
Currently, town council is working on parking solutions through a parking and transportation task force, which includes 12-15 active community members. The group has looked at bringing ride share organizations such as Zip Car into the mix and are also looking at paid parking options. While Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula said that he recognizes the town will not initially be happy with the paid-parking solution, he added that NelsonNygaard said this would make the biggest impact on traffic in the town.
“We recognize that we’re not trying to tout that paid parking is a positive improvement. It is for management, but paid parking is never something that users, especially the locals, view as positive,” Holman said.
But Buhler said that by concentrating on studies, the town is preventing solutions.
“When the tax passed a year ago we had hoped that we would be far along on planning and building of new parking in the town core by now. Unfortunately, because of council’s failure to follow through on their promises, new parking has been delayed by at least another two years,” he wrote.
Mamula argued that town council has to take more than visiting skiers into consideration. The council has a responsibility to the town as a whole, and needs to find a solution that works for everyone.
“Our goal is not, ‘Here’s 1,500 parking spaces, we’re done,’” he said.
Both parties agreed that it is important for the town and the ski resort to work together to continue bringing success to the town. However, Mamula said the struggle with parking takes away from other things that the town council could concentrate on.
“This is just taking all the oxygen out of every conversation, and that’s not how this should be. We should be working on a plan,” he said.