The Gunnison Valley Second Homeowners Group formed, as first reported by the Colorado Sun, to fight the ban that the county introduced on April 5 in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. Along with not permitting vacation and secondary homeowners to come to their properties, it also required anyone who is not a permanent resident of the county to leave. (A review process exempted around 120 homeowners who were already in their homes when the order was announced.) Those who did not follow the order risked a $5,000 fine and up to 18 months in jail.
The decision was made to protect the residents of the county, who number around 17,000, from an influx of visitors; over 4,400 people from other parts of the country own second homes in the area, which was one of the hardest hit in the state at the time of the order.
But critics, who include Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, said that the health order discriminates against those who own property in the area. Other counties introduced much less stringent measures by simply requiring visitors from other parts of the country to self-quarantine for 14 days.
“Gunnison County’s message to second-home owners was ‘you are a burden on the resources that your tax dollars support,” Jim Moran, who lives in Texas and is one of the group’s organizers, told the Sun.
After receiving an email saying that their request to access their Gunnison property had been denied, James and Joyce Cillessen, who live in Arvada county, sued the county’s commissioners and public health director Joni Reynolds by arguing that the ban on part-time residents violated the U.S. Constitution before dropping the case on June 8.
In addition to fighting the coronavirus ban, the Gunnison Valley Second Homeowners Group also aims to disrupt the Democratic majority on the Gunnison County Board of County Commissioners by voting in two candidates they support: Dave Taylor, a Republican business owner, and Trudy Vader, an unaffiliated rancher.
Moran is moving to register the group as an independent expenditure committee and run campaigns in support of Taylor and Vader. While the committee is not coordinating or donating to candidates, it will be running a campaign encouraging residents to vote for Taylor and Vader, who entered the race late but have since worked to get themselves on the ballot for the November elections.
“We just want to be the voice that unifies and brings a little bit of fairness in governance within this county,” Moran said. “One of the primary lessons we learned this spring was that you can’t really have an effective voice on issues unless you have an organization.”
Moran’s activities have created a rift among the community’s secondary and vacation homeowners. While a private Facebook group he created has over 650 members who largely argue that they are being treated unfairly, other homeowners have agreed that the temporary measures were necessary given the unprecedented nature of the virus and the county’s limited medical facilities.
“I think there is a much larger collection of second-home owners who are the silent majority who don’t want to upend local politics and really do care about the locals here and want to protect the community we all chose to buy into,” Steve Loden, a Houston attorney with two homes in Gunnison County, told the Sun. He said that he was banned from Moran’s Facebook group after pointing out that the ban was temporary and introduced at a time when few were going to their vacation homes anyway.
John Norton, the executive director of the Tourism and Prosperity Partnership for Gunnison County, said that the order may have come across the wrong way given its tone and how quickly it was made. But he also said that it was necessary given the rapid spread of the virus in April and May.
“There was a good reason for this order,” he told the Sun. “Gunnison Valley Hospital has no ICU capabilities. But the order was handled in a ham-handed way that many nonresident homeowners took offense to.”Nonresident homeowners are vital to making our valley work, just as they are vital in every ski valley in the state. Many are beloved neighbors, even if they spend less than half a year annually in the valley.”