When carpenter, surfer and documentary filmmaker Thomas Bena visited Steamboat Springs last year for his brother’s wedding, he saw many of the same complicated challenges in Routt County as in his home, the rural resort region of Martha’s Vineyard.
Beyond the comparable beauty, love of the outdoors and workers holding down multiple jobs, Bena saw the similarities of increasingly expensive and oversized homes helping push the average local worker out of the housing market. Workers in the two resort communities enjoy the jobs the construction industry brings but can feel guilty about contributing to the over-consumption and gentrification in tourist economy towns with plenty of second homeowners.
If you go:
What: Screening of "One Big Home"
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 12
Where: Library Hall, 1289 Lincoln Ave.
That rural resort connection is one reason Bena is excited about the Colorado premiere of his documentary “One Big Home,” on April 12 in Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library. Introducing the film will be Bena’s brother, Michael Bena, a restaurant supervisor at the Steamboat Ski Area who lives in an 834-square-foot Steamboat condo with his wife, Sarah.
In filmmaker Bena’s small hometown of Chilmark on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, 75 percent of the homes are only occupied seasonally but use energy and resources year-round.
Within the boundaries of the Steamboat Springs School District, 31 percent of the single-family detached homes and 46 percent of all housing types are likely used only seasonally or occasionally, according to Scott Ford, of Pinnacle Economic Research Group. Those statistics represent an elephant in the room that tourist-supported economic regions do not like to face. The topic led Bena to name his small documentary company Elephant in the Room Productions.
The average square footage of homes in the United States is 2,467, according to the 2015 Census. Within the local school district boundaries, 247 single-family homes are sized from 4,001 to 5,000 square feet, 123 from 5,001 to 6,000, 60 from 6,001 to 7,000, 41 from 7,001 to 8,000, 20 from 8,001 to 9,000, nine from 9,001 to 10,000 and seven at 10,000 plus, Ford noted from his research.
The filmmaker spent 12 years producing “One Big Home” with the promotional synopsis: “When he feels he is complicit in wrecking the place he calls home, one carpenter takes off his tool belt and picks up a camera. Bumping up against angry homeowners and builders who look the other way, he works with his community and attempts to pass a new bylaw that limits house size.”
According to the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors, the largest single-family home now on the market in Steamboat is 13,296 square feet; it was built in 2009 across the highway from Haymaker Golf Course. The largest current single-family luxury home in Chilmark is approximately 14,000 square feet.
In April 2013, citizens at the annual Chilmark town meeting approved a large house bylaw by a 68 percent majority that allows up to 3,500 square feet of livable square footage on a basic three-acre lot. Houses above that size require a special permit process allowing up to 5,500 square feet with minimized and mitigated environmental impacts. Any larger homes would require more land.
“I want to help preserve small towns all over America,” Bena said. “A lot of builders and architects are conflicted about what they are doing. There is an evolving consciousness of people when they are doing something that is going to hurt the community in the long run.”
“One Big Home” is being shown at towns and film festivals across the U.S. Bud Werner Memorial Library adult programs and Yampa Valley Sustainability Council will present the free screening at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 12 in Library Hall. For more information or to watch the trailer, visit steamboatlibrary.org/events.
Suzi Romig is energy outreach coordinator for the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council.