Environmental sustainability, housing, parking, and improving the relationship between the Town of Vail and Vail Resorts are among the top priorities to address according to respondents who took part in the Town of Vail Community Survey which was circulated in the spring. The survey findings were presented to the Town Council on June 7 by the research firm RRC Associates which also included an overview of department and service ratings.
The biennial survey was conducted in an online and mail-back format during March and April and generated 1,471 responses. Participants included full-time residents, part-time residents, business owners, commuters and other parties.
When asked to rank community priorities from a list of topics within the categories of environmental sustainability, town services, town infrastructure and economic health, respondents listed “actions to protect and enhance Gore Creek” followed by “actions to protect wildlife habitat” as the single highest rated priorities in terms of average score. When asked to select their top two priorities from the list of 15 possible actions, respondents selected “housing for resident-occupied households” as the number-one priority followed by wildlife habitat and Gore Creek protections. Other actions identified as priorities include “evaluating impacts of short-term rentals,” “defining comprehensive parking management policies,” “supporting and enhancing quality childcare for Vail’s families and workforce,” “actions to increase public safety and emergency preparedness” and “expand recycling and waste reduction efforts.” The findings are documented in an overview available here.
While the priority rankings were similar to results from the previous community survey in 2020, notable differences were recorded in 2022 on topics related to the town’s performance. This included a decline in ratings of town direction and facilities/services, according to RRC. The pattern was consistent throughout the survey and may be attributed, in part, to how the town responded to COVID-19, according to the analysis.
Respondents were asked to evaluate how the town handled pandemic-related precautions, information, programs and assistance. Overall, a majority of respondents rated the town’s response to the pandemic favorably when it came to addressing the “health and emotional needs of the community,” with 73% rating it a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale, as well as the “economic needs of the community,” with 61% rating it a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale; however, for between 10% and 15% of respondents, the town’s COVID efforts were perceived to be negative. “Clearly, for a segment of the community, the pandemic response was of concern and these opinions, coupled with frustrations with worker shortages and crowding likely carried over to other ratings this year,” said Chris Cares with RRC.
A series of community sentiment questions showed slight to moderate declines compared to previous years. Regarding the overall direction of the town, 44% said the town is going in the “right direction,” down from 57% in 2020 and 51% in 2018, while 37% indicated Vail is on the “wrong track,” up from 24% in 2020.
An evaluation of open-ended comments from respondents related to the town’s overall direction identified housing, parking, the town’s relationship with Vail Resorts, short-term rentals and crowding as topics accounting for a significant amount of negativity, while respondents cited the town’s new leadership, incremental housing actions and efforts to address the environment and sustainability as evidence to support the town’s positive direction.
In response to a new set of questions evaluating the importance of collaboration between the Town of Vail and Vail Resorts, there was strong consensus that the two entities should collaborate on workforce housing and parking, in particular.
Questions designed to benchmark community satisfaction with accountability and outreach by the town were slightly lower this year than in 2020. “Providing information to citizens,” “offering public engagement opportunities” and “approachability of staff and Town Council members,” received a 3.8 rating on a 5-point scale, compared to 4.1 and 4.2 ratings, respectively, in 2020. “Being collaborative in the decision-making process” was the lowest rated category at 3.4 this year, down from an average of 3.6 in 2020.
Ratings of town services and facilities were generally down across all departments this year for the first time, according to RRC. Much of the decline occurred from respondents offering a more moderate score of 3 or 4 in lieu of a 5, the highest satisfaction rating. As in past years, there were some variations in ratings by department. Fire and Library showed the highest ratings, but Public Works and the Police Department were also rated positively.
The highest scores were given to the following services, with 5 being “very satisfied.”
- Vail Public Library customer service & facilities, 4.7
- Cleanliness of pedestrian villages, 4.6
- Snow removal on roads, 4.6
- Response times to emergency incidents by Fire Department, 4.6
- Courtesy and helpfulness of Fire Department staff, 4.6
Community Development, Bus and Parking services showed relatively lower ratings than other departments. Bus and Parking services were particularly impacted by COVID restrictions and the “level of crowding on buses” was the lowest rated category of bus ratings at 3.8. The report states, “the pandemic created challenges that affected the public perception of services this year.”
Relatively lower ratings were given to parking operations, with 1 being “not at all satisfied.”
- Overall Frontage Road parking (safety), 2.6
- Overall Frontage Road (convenience/ease of access), 2.7
- Ease of parking in winter, 2.8
- Overall parking fees/pricing structure, 3.2
Other topics probed in the survey include events and guest services, recreation, resident-occupied deed-restricted housing opportunities, environment, destination stewardship plan, and information on ownership and property rental.
The RRC analysis emphasized the power of the open-ended comments received from the Vail community. Respondents took time to deliver over 11,000 written messages that include a wide range of suggestions and opinions addressing issues and opportunities. These comments have been organized to assist town staff and decision-makers to consider verbatim input on a wide variety of topics as Vail looks to the future.
The full report from RRC is available on the town’s website at www.vailgov.com/community/community-engagement-recognition/community-survey.