In a resort town where many people have second homes worth $1 million, a project to construct affordable housing for town employees has created a battle so contentious it has already claimed one casualty: the mayor.
Mayor Rob Ford, a proponent of the housing initiative, has given notice that he will resign at the end of his two-year term in November. He will also quit the City Council, which appointed him mayor in 1997.
The mayor's planned departure has become the subject of a new debate. Some have cheered it, while affordable housing proponents are calling him a quitter. But Ford acknowledged difficulty continuing amid the deluge of complaints, some of them X-rated, as he strolled through city streets.
"It's hard to go home at night when people are railing at you all day," said Ford. "I was tired of getting yelled at . . . [but] that was a small part of it. I skied the lowest number of times in the 25 years I've lived here. I came here to bike and ski."
Ford added, "For $1,000 a month, I figure I was getting $2.50 an hour," noting that contentiousness and seemingly endless hearings have turned the mayor's job into a full-time job, leaving him no time to pursue his real estate and investment interests.
Like resort communities from Lake Tahoe in California and Nevada to Taos, N.M., Vail has grappled with soaring housing prices. Most workers who earn lower wages--police officers, firefighters, even some doctors and lawyers--live in towns as much as 30 miles away, where prices are lower.
Ford was first elected to the seven-member Vail Town Council in 1995. He and the council held meetings to identify the residents' top priorities. Number one was affordable housing.
Ford said it has become increasingly difficult to run the town's government with many key employees living outside Vail.
"If people don't live in the community, they don't become attached to the community," Ford said.
The council approved four housing projects, which triggered immediate, vocal opposition.
For one project, the city donated land designated as open space, hired developers to build the condos and sold them to approved buyers to cover the cost of the project. Several groups have sued to block construction.
Project opponents are glad to see Ford go.
"I think his decision to quit is correct. But he should leave now, today, not wait until November," said Diana Donovan, who has opposed the housing project on open space.
"They are trying to cram affordable housing down our throat," she added, contending that Ford represents the views of business owners, not residents.
Kayo Ferry, a coffee shop owner and president of the Vail Valley Merchants Association, supports Ford.
"I don't think he should have quit," she said, adding that Ford's departure will delay solving the housing problem.
Tom Steinberg, the town's first resident doctor and a former council veteran, believes the housing impasse stems from the "NIMBY" factor: "Not in my back yard."
Steinberg said everyone supports affordable housing, unless it is going to be built next to them.
"People seem to complain as soon as they come here," he said. "If you're working in a factory, you don't have time to moan and complain. Here you just have to take 10 minutes off your tennis game."
CAPTION: Noting that he is "tired of getting yelled at," Rob Ford, mayor of Vail, Colo., says he will leave his post in November.