Let's ban second homes

  Dear HCN,

Not long ago, I was eating pancakes in a small diner/grocery in Clark, Colo., just 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs. My waitress was 60-something, and I soon found that she and her husband owned a farm outside of Clark. "It's been part of the family since the Homestead Act," she explained.

By the time I had finished my fourth pancake, I found out that the farm couldn't pay for itself anymore. Her elderly husband had had to give up farming for construction, while she was serving pancakes to the likes of me. Real estate prices had skyrocketed, forcing them to pay unbelievable taxes to live where they had always lived. Pressure on them to sell and subdivide were great, she said.

Her husband, leathery and worn, just laughed. "I'm worth more dead than I am alive," he joked. This isn't so funny, I was thinking, because it's true, and he knows it.

Now consider your own small town in the New West and ponder for a minute what it means to be a part of it. In that community, the people live, work, play, go to school, shop, pay taxes, receive from - and more importantly give back to - the community. Moreover, these folks have a deep understanding of the natural community as well. They can sense the changes in the seasons, they know where their water and power come from, and can typically identify most of the players in the local bio-community. It's people like this that make a community.

Now enter Bill Gates and friends. Soon, real estate prices soar, development ensues and most folks can't afford to live in the community anymore. Farms go under, replaced by cookie-cutter condos, sprouting like noxious weeds.

Fortunately, I have a solution: no second homes. If folks want to move in, great; otherwise, stay in a bed and breakfast or hotel.

Let's take this one step further: Let's say that to live in that sacred place, we replace the almighty dollar as the entrance ticket with something called a "commitment to the community." That is, one must pass some sort of test or contract on what they will give back to the community, what they plan to contribute, and what they will strive to learn about its human and natural history. (Now look at who's calling who an elitist.)

"Look here," they whine, "you want to take away my rights as an American citizen. I wanna own that trophy home in Jackson Hole to entertain my friends once a year." But I maintain that those rights end when they force others to move and negatively impact the community.

To be sure, the Homestead Act had its faults. But its heart was in the right place. Yes, it said, you can have this land, this 160 acres, but only if you live here and work the land - if your hands are stained with its dirt and you've sown your heart into it. Drew Hardesty
Sundance, Utah
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